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Revisiting The Biome Concept With A Functional Lens

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Front. Ecol. Evol. | doi: 10.3389/fevo.2019.00008

Functional traits of trees from dry deciduous ‘forests’ of southern India suggest seasonal drought and fire are important drivers

  • 1National Centre for Biological Sciences, India
  • 2Ecology Evolution and Envrironmental Biology, Columbia University, United States
  • 3School of Biology, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

Two dominant biomes that occur across the southern Indian peninsula are dry deciduous ‘forests’ and evergreen forests, with the former occurring in drier regions and the latter in wetter regions, sometimes in close proximity to each other. Here we compare stem and leaf traits of trees from multiple sites across these biomes to show that dry deciduous ‘forest’ species have, on average, lower height: diameter ratios, lower specific leaf areas, higher wood densities and higher relative bark thickness, than evergreen forest species. These traits are diagnostic of these dry deciduous ‘forests’ as open, well-lit, drought- and fire-prone habitats where trees are conservative in their growth strategies and invest heavily in protective bark tissue. These tree traits together with the occurrence of a C4 grass-dominated understory, diverse mammalian grazers and frequent fires indicate that large tracts of dry deciduous ‘forests’ of southern India are more accurately classified as mesic deciduous ‘savannas’.

Keywords: functional traits, fire, savnnas, forests, Southern india

Received: 01 Jun 2018; Accepted: 09 Jan 2019.

Edited by:

Daniel M. Griffith, Oregon State University, United States

Reviewed by:

Juan E. Guevara Andino, Field Museum of Natural History, United States
Kathleen M. Quigley, Michigan State University, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Ratnam, SK, Machado, SK, Nataraj, Machado, Osuri, Sankaran, Nataraj, Osuri and Sankaran. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Jayashree Ratnam, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, 560065, India, jratnam@ncbs.res.in