Global vegetation models predict the spread of woody vegetation in African savannas and grasslands under future climate scenarios, but they operate too broadly to consider hillslope-scale variations in tree - grass distribution. Topographically linked hydrology - soil - vegetation sequences, or catenas, underpin a variety of ecological processes in savannas, including responses to climate change. In this study, we explore the three-dimensional structure of hillslopes and vegetation, using high-resolution airborne LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), to understand the long-term effects of mean annual precipitation (MAP) on catena pattern. Our results reveal that the presence and position of hillslope hydrological boundaries, or seeplines, vary as a function of MAP through its long-term influence on clay redistribution. We suggest that changes in climate will differentially alter the structure of savannas through hydrological changes to the seasonally saturated grasslands downslope of seeplines. The mechanisms underlying future woody encroachment are not simply physiological responses to elevated temperatures and CO2 levels but also involve hydrogeomorphological processes at the hillslope scale.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)