Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

The savanna tree Acacia polyacantha facilitates the establishment of riparian forests in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Gregory J. Sharama1 c1, A. R. E. Sinclaira1, Roy Turkingtona1a2 and Aerin L. Jacoba1

a1 Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Blvd., Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4

a2 Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, 3529-6270 University Blvd., Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4


Forests are being converted to grasslands and croplands across Africa and natural regeneration of forests is typically poor. In Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, the savanna tree species Acacia polyacantha established in riparian grasslands and forest trees subsequently established within these stands. We examined the conditions for establishment of: (1) A. polyacantha and (2) riparian (non-Acacia) forests. Fire was excluded from three grassland areas for 5 y allowing A. polyacantha to establish during 1999 when dry-season rainfall was high. The seedlings of forest tree species did not establish in grasslands, but were found in large A. polyacantha stands (> 0.3 ha) with reduced grass cover (< 10%), higher cover of herbs (> 80%) and thorny shrubs (> 90%). Seeding survival was high in large stands (0.87 y−1), but declined in artificial canopy gaps due to the ingrowth of grasses (0.21 y−1) and subsequent fires (0.07 y−1). Shrub removal also reduced seedling survival (0.46 y−1) due to browsing by antelope. We propose that: (1) A. polyacantha establishes in pulses perhaps as infrequently as twice per century, and (2) riparian forests in Serengeti have established via facilitation under larger stands where shade excludes grass, and therefore fires and thorny shrubs exclude browsers.

(Accepted November 10 2008)


c1 Corresponding author. Email: