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Keywords:

  • browsing;
  • Croton dichogamus;
  • elephant;
  • Euclea divinorum;
  • fire;
  • recruitment;
  • savanna;
  • Tanzania;
  • thicket

ABSTRACT

The role of Euclea divinorum in the establishment of broad-leaved thickets was investigated in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Thickets are declining due to frequent fires, but have not reestablished when fires have been removed. Seedlings of E. divinorum, a fire-resistant tree, were found in grassland adjacent to thickets and as thicket canopy trees and may function to facilitate thicket establishment. Seedlings of thicket species were abundant under E. divinorum canopy trees but not in the grassland, indicating that E. divinorum can facilitate forest establishment. We examined E. divinorum establishment in grassland by measuring survival and growth of seedlings with respect to fire, browsers, elephants, and competition with grass. Seedling survival was reduced by fire (50%), browsers (70%), and competition with grass (50%), but not by elephants. Seedling growth rate was negative unless both fire and browsers, or grass was removed. Establishment of thickets via E. divinorum is not occurring under the current conditions in Serengeti of frequent fires, abundant browsers, and dense grass in riparian areas. Conditions that allowed establishment may have occurred in 1890–1920s during a rinderpest epizootic, and measurements of thicket canopy trees suggest they established at that time.