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      Top-down determinants of niche structure and adaptation among African Acacias : Herbivory and fire structure Acacia niches

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      Ecology Letters

      Wiley-Blackwell

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          Abstract

          The role of top-down factors like herbivory and fire in structuring species' niches, even in disturbance-dependent biomes like savanna, remains poorly understood. Interactions between herbivory and fire may set up a potential tradeoff axis, along which unique adaptations contribute to structuring communities and determining species distributions. We examine the role of herbivory and fire in structuring distributions of Acacia saplings in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park in South Africa, and the relationship of species' niche structure to traits that help them survive herbivory or fire. Results suggest that (1) fire and herbivory form a single trade-off axis, (2) Acacia sapling distributions are constrained by fire and herbivory, and (3) Acacia saplings have adaptations that are structured by the tradeoff axis. Herbivory-adapted species tend to have 'cage'-like architecture, thicker bark, and less starch storage, while fire-adapted species tend to have 'pole'-like architecture, relatively thinner bark, and more starch storage.

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          Niches and distributional areas: concepts, methods, and assumptions.

          Estimating actual and potential areas of distribution of species via ecological niche modeling has become a very active field of research, yet important conceptual issues in this field remain confused. We argue that conceptual clarity is enhanced by adopting restricted definitions of "niche" that enable operational definitions of basic concepts like fundamental, potential, and realized niches and potential and actual distributional areas. We apply these definitions to the question of niche conservatism, addressing what it is that is conserved and showing with a quantitative example how niche change can be measured. In this example, we display the extremely irregular structure of niche space, arguing that it is an important factor in understanding niche evolution. Many cases of apparently successful models of distributions ignore biotic factors: we suggest explanations to account for this paradox. Finally, relating the probability of observing a species to ecological factors, we address the issue of what objects are actually calculated by different niche modeling algorithms and stress the fact that methods that use only presence data calculate very different quantities than methods that use absence data. We conclude that the results of niche modeling exercises can be interpreted much better if the ecological and mathematical assumptions of the modeling process are made explicit.
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            The importance of biotic interactions for modelling species distributions under climate change

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              Global Pyrogeography: the Current and Future Distribution of Wildfire

              Climate change is expected to alter the geographic distribution of wildfire, a complex abiotic process that responds to a variety of spatial and environmental gradients. How future climate change may alter global wildfire activity, however, is still largely unknown. As a first step to quantifying potential change in global wildfire, we present a multivariate quantification of environmental drivers for the observed, current distribution of vegetation fires using statistical models of the relationship between fire activity and resources to burn, climate conditions, human influence, and lightning flash rates at a coarse spatiotemporal resolution (100 km, over one decade). We then demonstrate how these statistical models can be used to project future changes in global fire patterns, highlighting regional hotspots of change in fire probabilities under future climate conditions as simulated by a global climate model. Based on current conditions, our results illustrate how the availability of resources to burn and climate conditions conducive to combustion jointly determine why some parts of the world are fire-prone and others are fire-free. In contrast to any expectation that global warming should necessarily result in more fire, we find that regional increases in fire probabilities may be counter-balanced by decreases at other locations, due to the interplay of temperature and precipitation variables. Despite this net balance, our models predict substantial invasion and retreat of fire across large portions of the globe. These changes could have important effects on terrestrial ecosystems since alteration in fire activity may occur quite rapidly, generating ever more complex environmental challenges for species dispersing and adjusting to new climate conditions. Our findings highlight the potential for widespread impacts of climate change on wildfire, suggesting severely altered fire regimes and the need for more explicit inclusion of fire in research on global vegetation-climate change dynamics and conservation planning.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Ecology Letters
                Wiley-Blackwell
                1461023X
                July 2012
                July 2012
                : 15
                : 7
                : 673-679
                Article
                10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01784.x
                22507561
                0dec3f09-404d-4a97-a8d6-2d10fcfbc3bf
                © 2012

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