1. Wet tropical savannas are characterized by strong environmental constraints—particularly low soil nutrient availability—associated with high plant productivity. Nitrogen recycling, and especially nitrification, is supposed to be a strong determinant of the balance between conservation and loss of nutrients at the ecosystem level. Savanna facies dominated by the grass Hyparrhenia diplandra (Andropogoneae) are known to exhibit low levels of nitrification and thus avoid nitrate losses.
2. By comparing two sites in the Lamto area (Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa) with similar soil physico-chemical characteristics and equally dominated by H. diplandra (80% of the grass cover), it was demonstrated that, within this facies, nitrification is highly heterogeneous, with a 240-fold variation in potential nitrification within a specific site.
3. In order to test whether these differences can be considered as permanent in this ecosystem, nitrate reductase activities were compared on H. diplandra plantlets from the two sites, cultivated under identical conditions in the presence of nitrate. The leaves of plants originating from the high nitrification site were always able to reduce nitrate at a significantly higher rate than those from the low nitrification site. This observation indicates a long-term adaptation of the plants and stable nitrification behaviour.
4. Lamto can thus be considered as a contrasted dual ecosystem relative to its nitrogen cycle. The two sites studied therefore constitute useful models to assess the determinism of nitrification in wet savannas and the role of this process on nitrogen retention in such ecosystems.