, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 883-894

Evidence of Hierarchical Patch Dynamics in an East African savanna?

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The Hierarchical Patch Dynamics Paradigm provides a conceptual framework for linking pattern, process and scale in ecosystems, but there have been few attempts to test this theory because most ecological studies focus on only one spatial scale, or are limited in their temporal scope. Here I use palaeoecological techniques (analysis of fossil pollen and stable carbon isotopes) to compare vegetation heterogeneity in an east African savanna at three spatial scales, over hundreds of years. The data show that patterns of vegetation change are different at the three spatial scales of observation, and suggest that different ecological processes dominate tree abundance at micro, local and landscape scales. Interactions between plants, disturbance (e.g., by fire and herbivores), climate and soil type may influence tree density at differing spatial and temporal scales. This hierarchical explanation of savanna vegetation dynamics could inform future biodiversity conservation and management in savannas.