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Trends Ecol Evol. 2014 Apr;29(4):205-13. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2014.02.004. Epub 2014 Mar 11.

Tropical grassy biomes: misunderstood, neglected, and under threat.

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Department of Earth, Ocean & Ecological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 3GP, UK. Electronic address:
Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW, 2109, Australia; School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH9 3JN, UK.
Department of Botany, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa.
Department of Plant Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.
CSIRO Ecosystem Science, Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, PMB 44, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.


Tropical grassy biomes (TGBs) are globally extensive, provide critical ecosystem services, and influence the earth-atmosphere system. Yet, globally applied biome definitions ignore vegetation characteristics that are critical to their functioning and evolutionary history. Hence, TGB identification is inconsistent and misinterprets the ecological processes governing vegetation structure, with cascading negative consequences for biodiversity. Here, we discuss threats linked to the definition of TGB, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation schemes (REDD+), and enhanced atmospheric CO2, which may facilitate future state shifts. TGB degradation is insidious and less visible than in forested biomes. With human reliance on TGBs and their propensity for woody change, ecology and evolutionary history are fundamental to not only the identification of TGBs, but also their management for future persistence.


CDM; REDD+; atmospheric CO(2); biome shift; forest; grassland; savanna

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