• Australia;
  • tropical;
  • subtropical;
  • soil moisture;
  • nutrients;
  • savanna;
  • biomass

The use of the plant available moisture (PAM)/plant available nutrients (PAN) concept to compare savanna structure was examined using data from twenty Australian sites. Above-ground biomass was regressed on various combinations of seventeen different estimates of PAM (plant available moisture) and two estimates of PAN (plant available nutrients). The ratios of actual transpirational loss from the subsoil to potential evapotranspiration (PET), and total annual rainfall to PET, were most highly correlated with total biomass. Grass biomass is poorly predicted by PAM on its own, and requires inclusion of woody leaf biomass in the regression. PAN had little effect on total biomass, although it is likely to be important for other, functional aspects of vegetation. The woody : grass ratio is best predicted by an index involving the ratio of subsoil : topsoil moisture. For biomass comparisons the use of a detailed water-balance model to estimate PAM is not warranted.