Fixed or mixed? Variation in tree functional types and vegetation structure in a forest-savanna ecotone in West Africa

Ametsitsi, George K.D.; Langevelde, Frank Van; Logah, Vincent; Janssen, Thomas; Medina-Vega, Jose A.; Issifu, Hamza; Ollivier, Laurianne; Hartogh, Koos Den; Adjei-Gyapong, Thomas; Adu-Bredu, Stephen; Lloyd, Jon; Veenendaal, Elmar M.


We analysed thirty-five 400-m2 plots encompassing forest, savanna and intermediate vegetation types in an ecotonal area in Ghana, West Africa. Across all plots, fire frequency was over a period of 15 years relatively uniform (once in 2-4 years). Although woodlands were dominated by species typically associated with savanna-type formations, and with forest formations dominated by species usually associated with closed canopies, these associations were non-obligatory and with a discrete non-specialized species grouping also identified. Across all plots, crown area index, stem basal area and above-ground biomass were positively associated with higher soil exchangeable potassium and silt contents: This supporting recent suggestions of interplays between potassium and soil water storage potential as a significant influence on tropical vegetation structure. We also found an average NDVI cover increase of ∼0.15% year-1 (1984-2011) with plots dominated by non-specialized species increasing more than those dominated by either forest-or savanna-affiliated species. Our results challenge the traditional view of a simple forest vs. savanna dichotomy controlled by fire, and with our newly identified third non-specialized species grouping also potentially important in understanding ecotonal responses to climate change.