Tree-grass interactions in Savannas

R. J. Scholes, S. R. Archer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1919 Scopus citations


Savannas occur where trees and grasses interact to create a biome that is neither grassland nor forest. Woody and gramineous plants interact by many mechanisms, some negative (competition) and some positive (facilitation). The strength and sign of the interaction varies in both time and space, allowing a rich array of possible outcomes but no universal predictive model. Simple models of coexistence of trees and grasses, based on separation in rooting depth, are theoretically and experimentally inadequate. Explanation of the widely observed increase in tree biomass following introduction of commercial ranching into savannas requires inclusion of interactions among browsers, grazers, and fires, and their effects on tree recruitment. Prediction of the consequences of manipulating tree biomass through clearing further requires an understanding of how trees modify light, water, and nutrient environments of grasses. Understanding the nature of coexistence between trees and grass, which under other circumstances are mutually exclusive or unequal partners, yields theoretical insights and has practical implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-544
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology and Systematics
StatePublished - 1997


  • Competition
  • Facilitation
  • Fire
  • Herbivory
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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