, Volume 215, Issue 1, pp 27-37
Date: 15 Nov 2013

The dynamics of hollowing in annually burnt savanna trees and its effect on adult tree mortality

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Abstract

Savanna trees often display significant hollows due to the combined action of fire and termites (N’Dri et al., J Trop Ecol 27:269–278, 2011). Observations have shown that internal cavities caused by termites in tree stems often result in external hollows under annual fire regimes, and it is quite possible that such hollows/fire interaction may increase the probability of trunk or big branch breakage and/or tree mortality. A study of individual tree and branch mortality as a function of prior termite and fire damage was undertaken in a West African savanna (Lamto, Côte d’Ivoire) where most of the trees naturally have hollows in their stems due to termite and fire interaction. Our goal was to examine the dynamics of hollowing and to determine whether hollowing significantly affected tree mortality. Branch and whole plant mortality were quantified for dominant tree species according to their initial hollow state and height. Four different responses were obtained depending on tree species: (1) mortality increased with cavity severity and tree size (Piliostigma thonningii), (2) mortality depended on tree size only (Bridelia ferruginea), (3) no mortality even after being hollowed by termites and externally damaged by fire (Crossopteryx febrifuga, the species with the highest proportion of individuals with hollows yet the greatest background survival time, 14 ± 2 years) and (4) high mortality, but few hollow trees suggesting a weak resistance to hollowing (Cussonia arborea which was insensitive to all the factors examined in this study). For species resistant to hollowing, tree mortality was rare; alternatively, for species prone to hollowing, whole trees died quickly and before the most severe hollow classes could be observed. Long-term demographic data yielded population-level mortality estimates of adult trees at least four times lower in fire-exclusion zones than that in fire-prone areas. Because hollow dynamics interact with fire in affecting adult mortality of some dominant tree species, fire management is important for a sustainable woody component of these savannas.