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Keywords:

  • African savannas;
  • bark thickness;
  • cerrado;
  • consumer control;
  • disturbance regime;
  • fire intensity;
  • fire-escape strategies;
  • herbivory;
  • plant development and life-history traits;
  • tree height

Summary

  1. Fire and herbivory are the main disturbances shaping the structure of savannas. In these ecosystems, the key strategies by which woody plants escape fire are either early height growth (the lanky strategy) or early bark growth (the corky strategy). We hypothesize that the dominance of each strategy in different savannas depends on the prevailing disturbance regimes. Given the importance of herbivory in afrotropical savanna, we expect woody plants in these savannas to be taller and have thinner barks (the lanky strategy) than plants in neotropical savanna where fire tends to be more intense (the corky strategy).
  2. We compiled data on bark thickness and stem height in relation to stem diameter for afrotropical and neotropical savanna woody species and tested for differences in the allometric relationship between these two savannas with a general linear mixed model (GLMM).
  3. Fire intensities were higher in neotropical than in afrotropical savannas. Afrotropical savanna plants were taller and had thinner barks for a given diameter than neotropical savanna plants – supporting our hypothesis that because of the contrasting disturbance regimes, the lanky strategy is more adaptive in afrotropical savannas, whereas the corky strategy is more adaptive in neotropical savannas.
  4. Synthesis. While the lanky strategy is more associated with heavily browsed and fuel-controlled savannas, the corky strategy is associated with lightly browsed savannas that experience more intense fires. Because the relative role of disturbances varies across the globe, we suggest that the height-bark-diameter scheme is a powerful framework for understanding the ecology of many savannas.