Savanna resilience to droughts increases with the proportion of browsing wild herbivores and plant functional diversity.

Published online
20 Sep 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Irob, K. & Blaum, N. & Weiss-Aparicio, A. & Hauptfleisch, M. & Hering, R. & Uiseb, K. & Tietjen, B.
Contact email(s)

Publication language


Maintaining the resilience and functionality of savannas is key to sustaining the ecosystem services they provide. This maintenance is largely dependent on the resilience of savannas to stressors, such as prolonged droughts. The resilience to drought is largely determined by the interaction of herbivores and the functional composition of vegetation. So far, our understanding and ability to predict the response of savannas to drought under different types of rangeland use and as a function of vegetation composition are still limited. In this study, we used the ecohydrological, spatially-explicit savanna model EcoHyD to determine if the resilience of a savanna rangeland towards prolonged droughts can be enhanced by the choice of rangeland use type (grazer-dominated, mixed-feeders or browser-dominated) and animal density. We evaluated the ability of a Namibian savanna system to withstand droughts and recover from droughts based on its perennial grass cover and the overall species composition. Generally, we determined a low resilience under high grazer densities. Most importantly, we found that functional diversification of herbivores and plants acted as resilience insurance against droughts, leading to greater resistance and recovery of perennial grasses. In particular, a higher proportion of herbivores allowed for higher resilience, probably also due to a short-term switch to more drought-resistant or unpalatable species. In this case, herbivore diversification was of high self-regulatory value by reestablishing trophic complexity, reducing the need for additional management interventions.

Key words