Canopy structure in savannas along a moisture gradient on Kalahari sands


Robert J. Scholes, tel. +27 12 841 2045, fax +27 12 841 2689, e-mail:


Measurements of tree canopy architecture were made at six savanna sites on deep, sandy soils, along a gradient of increasing aridity. There was substantial variation in the leaf area estimated within each site, using the same sample frame, but different measurement techniques. The trends in canopy properties in relation to the aridity gradient were consistent, regardless of the technique used for estimating the properties. The effective plant area index for the tree canopy (the sum of the stem area index and the leaf area index (LAI)) declined from around 2 to around 0.8 m2 m−2 over a gradient of mean annual rainfall from 1000 to 350 mm. Stems contributed 2–5% of the tree canopy plant area index. Since the tree canopy cover decreased from 50% to 20% over this aridity range, the leaf area index within the area covered by tree canopies remained fairly constant at 3–4 m2 m−2. Tree leaves tended from a horizontal orientation to a more random orientation as the aridity increased. On the same gradient, the leaf minor axis dimension decreased from around 30 mm to around 3 mm, and the mean specific leaf area decreased from 14 to 5 m2 kgha−1. There was good agreement between LAI observed in the field using a line ceptometer and the LAI inferred by the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite platform, 2 months later in the same season.