The under-appreciated role of C4 grasses in Mediterranean shrubland – grassland transitions

1982 VERNON VISSER1,2, Prof Res Altwegg1, Prof Adam West3, Ms Michelle Louw1,3, Ms Tshepiso Mafole1,3

1SEEC, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, 2African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, 3Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

It is fairly well established now that C4 grasses caused major ecosystem shifts from forests to grass-dominated savannahs and grasslands in the last 8 million years. C4 grasses as invasive species are also responsible for major ecosystem transformations in many contemporary settings. However, the role that C4 grasses may have played in biome shifts from Mediterranean shrublands (such as fynbos) to grassier vegetation types, for which there is abundant palaeo-ecological evidence, is less well appreciated and understood. In this talk I discuss the evidence for such transitions, describing results from distribution modelling and a field experiment which we have recently started.


Vernon is a research fellow at the Centre for Statistics in Ecology, the Environment and Conservation (SEEC) at the University of Cape Town. The project Vernon will introduce here forms part of a larger NRF ACCESS-funded project on the role of the annual cycle and seasonality on biophysical processes and biodiversity. Vernon is part funded under this program as well as by the African Climate and Development Initiative.

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