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Vegetation changes over the past two decades in a West African savanna ecosystem

Leßmeister, Anna, Bernhardt‐Römermann, Markus, Schumann, Katharina, Thiombiano, Adjima, Wittig, Rüdiger, Hahn, Karen
Applied vegetation science 2019 v.22 no.2 pp. 230-242
correspondence analysis, ecosystems, forage, grazing intensity, ground vegetation, herbaceous plants, herds, homogenization, human population, indicator species, land use change, livestock, savannas, shrubs, species richness, surveys, trees, woody plants, Burkina Faso
QUESTIONS: West African savanna ecosystems are affected by increasing land use intensity (e.g., agriculture and livestock herds) due to a growing human population. To understand the impact of land use intensification on savanna vegetation, we aim to answer the following questions: How do savanna species composition, diversity and structure change with increasing land use pressure? Are the impacts of land use change different in the woody and the herbaceous layers? Do the effects of land use change differ between vegetation types? LOCATION: Southeastern Burkina Faso, West Africa. METHODS: Vegetation plots from the early 1990s representing vegetation types occurring in fallows of different age and in uncultivated pasturing zones were resurveyed. We distinguished between woody (tree and shrub layer) and herbaceous vegetation types. Species composition changes were analyzed using ordination techniques (detrended correspondence analysis, DCA) and indicator species analysis (IndVal). Species turnover and plant diversity as represented by species richness and evenness were compared between the baseline survey and the resurvey. RESULTS: In most woody vegetation types, we found no change in species composition and richness over the past two decades. However, some highly valued woody species decreased in abundance. In contrast, in most herbaceous vegetation types, species composition changed considerably and species richness increased. The proportion of wide‐ranging, ruderal herbaceous species increased, indicating a homogenization of herbaceous vegetation types, while preferred fodder herbaceous species decreased. We assume that the increased grazing intensity over the past two decades is the driver of these changes in the herbaceous layer. CONCLUSIONS: Our results show different reactions of vegetation types and layers to land use intensification and reinforce the need for studies on the basis of vegetation type that incorporate both the herbaceous and the woody layers.