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Data from: Fire and grazing controlling a tropical tree line: Effects of long‐term grazing exclusion in Bale Mountains, Ethiopia


Johansson, Maria Ulrika; Granström, Anders (2020), Data from: Fire and grazing controlling a tropical tree line: Effects of long‐term grazing exclusion in Bale Mountains, Ethiopia, Dryad, Dataset,


Aims: Tropical tree lines are often associated with abrupt shifts in vegetation, soils and disturbance regimes, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. We analysed the role of grazing, fuels and fire in maintaining a sharp tree line with flammable heathland above non-flammable forest.

Location: Bale Mountains, Ethiopia.

Methods: Grazing exclosures, repeated vegetation sampling, soil analyses and burning and sowing experiments along an altitudinal gradient with Hagenia abyssinica forest, Erica trimera forest and Erica heathland; all heavily grazed, the latter burnt on short rotation.

Results: Contrary to expectation, livestock exclusion did not increase forest fuel flammability, but instead resulted in a dense carpet of non-flammable herbs. In the heathland, livestock exclusion led to somewhat faster post-fire fuel recovery, but no major vegetation change. Seeding of tree species resulted in some seedling establishment, but notably Hagenia grew poorly in the heathland, even when protected from livestock. A bioassay, as well as observations of outpost trees on atypical soil above the treeline, suggest that this poor growth is caused by the acidic soils, rather than harsh climate. Despite frequent fires, heathland soils had lower pH and higher organic matter content than forest soils. Below the tree line, tree seedling establishment was successful only in forest gaps, and if livestock was excluded. In both forest and heathland rapid vegetative regeneration in the ground flora after disturbance restricted major species shifts.

Conclusions: These results suggest that the contrasting fire potential between heathland and forest, and thus the sharp tree line would be maintained, or possibly even accentuated, in the absence of livestock grazing, and that Hagenia colonisation upwards into the heathland is restricted not only by fire and grazing, but also the acidic soils, a legacy of centuries of Erica dominance.


Collected by ourselves in the field 2005-2011,processed in Excel and Minitab


Sida, Award: (SWE-2004-276)

Sida, Award: (SWE-2004-276)