Woody encroachment decreases diversity across North American grasslands and savannas

TitleWoody encroachment decreases diversity across North American grasslands and savannas
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsRatajczak, Z, Nippert, JB, Collins, SL
Pagination697 -703
Accession NumberKNZ001460

Woody encroachment is a widespread and acute phenomenon affecting grasslands and savannas worldwide. We performed a meta-analysis of 29 studies from 13 different grassland/savanna communities in North America to determine the consequences of woody encroachment on plant species richness. In all 13 communities, species richness declined with woody plant encroachment (average decline = 45%). Species richness declined more in communities with higher precipitation (r2 = 0.81) and where encroachment was associated with a greater change in annual net primary productivity (ANPP; r2 = 0.69). Based on the strong positive correlation between precipitation and ANPP following encroachment (r2 = 0.87), we hypothesize that these relationships occur because water-limited woody plants experience a greater physiological and demographic release as precipitation increases. The observed relationship between species richness and ANPP provides support for the theoretical expectation that a trade-off occurs between richness and productivity in herbaceous communities. We conclude that woody plant encroachment leads to significant declines in species richness in North American grassland/savanna communities.