Influence of competition and rainfall manipulation on the growth responses of savanna trees and grasses

Ecology. 2013 May;94(5):1155-64. doi: 10.1890/12-0540.1.


In this study, we explored how rainfall manipulation influenced competitive interactions between grasses and juvenile trees (small nonreproductive trees capable of resprouting) in savanna. To do this, we manipulated rainfall amount in the field using an incomplete factorial experiment that determined the effects of rainfall reduction, no manipulation, rainfall addition, and competition between grasses and trees on grass and tree growth. As response variables, we focused on several measures of tree growth and Disc Pasture Meter settling height as an estimate of grass aboveground biomass. We conducted the study over four years, at two sites in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Our results show that rainfall manipulation did not have substantial effects on any of the measures of tree growth we considered. However, trees at plots where grasses had been removed grew on average 15 cm more in height and 1.3-1.7 times more in basal area per year than those in plots with grasses. Grass biomass was not influenced by the presence of trees but was significantly and positively influenced by rainfall addition. These findings were not fundamentally influenced by soil type or by prevailing precipitation, suggesting applicability of our results to a wide range of savannas. Our results suggest that, in savannas, increasing rainfall serves to increase the competitive pressure exerted by grasses on trees. The implication is that recruitment into the adult tree stage from the juvenile stage is most likely in drought years when there is little competition from grass for resources and grass fuel loads are low.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomass
  • Ecosystem*
  • Poaceae / classification
  • Poaceae / growth & development*
  • Rain*
  • Soil
  • South Africa
  • Time Factors
  • Trees / classification
  • Trees / growth & development*


  • Soil