, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 211-227

Woody vegetation spatial patterns in a semi-arid savanna of Burkina Faso, West Africa

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Spatial patterns of woody individuals were studied in a semi-arid savanna of West Africa located in Burkina Faso at and around 14° 12′ N and 2° 27′ W. The study was based upon a 10.24 ha plot within which individuals were mapped. Spatial pattern analysis was carried out using second order characteristics of point processes as K functions and pair correlations. The overall density amounted to 298 individuals ha-1. The most abundant species were Combretum micranthum G. Don., Grewia bicolor Juss. and Pterocarpus lucens Lepr. Anogeissus leiocarpus (D.C.) G. et Perr. was also an important constituant of this vegetation type, owing to its taller stature. Clumped spatial distributions were identified for all species except for two, for which complete spatial randomness (CSR) was found (including P. lucens, a dominant woody plant). No regular pattern was found even when tall individuals were considered alone. Aggregation dominates interspecific relationships, resulting in multispecific clumps and patches. The overall aggregation pattern was constituted by two different structures. A coarse-grain pattern of ca. 30–40 m was based on edaphic features, and expresses the contrast between sparse stands on petroferric outcrops and denser patches on less shallow soils. A finer-grain pattern made of clumps ca. 5–10 m wide, with no obvious relation to pre-existing soil heterogeneity. There was no overall pattern for saplings (between 0.5 m and 1.5 m in height) irrespective of species, and thus no obvious common facilitation factor. For species with a high recruitment level there was no significant relationship between mature adult and saplings. The only case of clumped saplings with randomly distributed adults was found in P. lucens. However, this cannot be unequivocally interpreted as density dependent regulation since the existence of such a process was not consistent with the spatial distribution of dead P. lucens individuals (victims of the last drought). The mean density around dead P. lucens was lower than around surviving ones, indicating that the last drought tended to reinforce clumping rather than promote a regular pattern of trees. Spatial pattern analysis yielded no evidence supporting a hypothesis of stand density regulation through competition between individuals. Other processes, as surface sealing of bare soils or insufficient recruitment, may play a more important role in preventing a savanna-like vegetation from turning into denser woodlands or thickets.