Grass-dominated vegetation, not species-diverse natural savanna, replaces degraded tropical forests on the southern edge of the Amazon Basin Academic Article uri icon


  • Changes in land-uses, fire regimes, and climate are expected to promote savanna expansion in the Amazon Basin, but most studies that come to this conclusion fail to define " savanna" clearly or imply that natural savannas of native species will spread at the expense of forest. Given their different conservation values, we sought to differentiate between species-diverse natural savannas and other types of fire-maintained grass-dominated vegetation that replaced tropical forests between 1986 and 2005 in 22,500km2 of eastern lowland Bolivia. Analysis of Landsat TM and CBERS-2 satellite imagery revealed that, in addition to 1200km2 (7.1%) of deforestation for agriculture and planted pastures, 1420km2 (8.4%) of forest was replaced by derived savannas. Sampling in 2008 showed that natural savannas differed from forest-replacing derived savannas floristically, in soil fertility, and in fuel loads. Natural savannas typically occurred on sandy, acidic, nutrient-poor soils whereas most derived savannas were on comparatively fertile soils. Fuel loads in derived savannas were twice those of natural savannas. Natural savannas supported a diversity of grass species, whereas derived savannas were usually dominated by Guadua paniculata (native bamboo), Urochloa spp. (exotic forages), Imperata brasiliensis (native invasive), Digitaria insularis (native ruderal), or the native fire-adapted herb Hyptis suaveolens (Lamiaceae). Trees in derived savannas were forest species (e.g., Anadenanthera colubrina) and fire-tolerant palms (Attalea spp.), not thick-barked species characteristic of savanna environments (e.g., Curatella americana). In addressing tropical vegetation transitions it is clearly important to distinguish between native species-diverse ecosystems and novel derived vegetation of similar structure. 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Veldman, J. W., & Putz, F. E.

citation count

  • 92

complete list of authors

  • Veldman, Joseph W||Putz, Francis E

publication date

  • January 2011