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The influence of termite-induced heterogeneity on savanna vegetation along a climatic gradient in West Africa

  • Arne Erpenbach (a1), Markus Bernhardt-Römermann (a1) (a2), Rüdiger Wittig (a1) (a3), Adjima Thiombiano (a4) and Karen Hahn (a1) (a3)...

Termites are renowned ecosystem engineers. Their mounds have been described as an important element of savanna vegetation dynamics, but little is known about their large-scale impact on vegetation composition. To investigate the influence of termite-induced heterogeneity in savannas along a climatic gradient in West Africa termite mound vegetation was compared with adjacent savanna vegetation using 256 paired plots (size of the termite mound and a corresponding savanna area) in five protected areas from northern Burkina Faso to northern Benin. On each plot vegetation and soil sampling was performed. Additionally bioclimatic variables from the WORLDCLIM database were used. The vegetation on the mounds and the surrounding savanna differed within all study sites (DCA length of gradient 3.85 SD) and showed complete turnover along the climatic gradient (DCA length of gradient 5.99 SD). Differences between mounds and savanna were significantly related to termite-induced changes in soil parameters, specifically clay enrichment and increased cation concentrations (base saturation). On a local scale, termite-induced differences in soil conditions were found to be the most important factor affecting mound vegetation, while on a regional scale, annual precipitation showed the strongest significant correlations. However, with increasing precipitation, differences between mounds and the surrounding matrix became more pronounced, and the contribution of mounds to local phytodiversity increased. Eleven plant species were identified as characteristic termite mound species. In the more humid parts of the gradient, more characteristic plant species were found that may benefit from favourable soil conditions, good water availability, and a low fire impact in the mound microhabitat.

Corresponding author
1Corresponding author. Present postal address: Biodiversity, Macroecology & Conservation Biogeography Group, Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology, University of Göttingen, Büsgenweg 1, 37077 Göttingen, Germany. Email:
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Journal of Tropical Ecology
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