Savanna occupies half the global tropical zone (Lehmann et al ., ) and is home to hundreds of millions of people. Usually comprising a mix of C 4 grasses and scattered trees, it can be as rich in plant species as tropical rain forests (Forzza et al ., ) and accounts for c . 30% of global terrestrial net primary productivity (Lehmann et al ., ). Despite its high biodiversity and importance to humanity, the scientific study of savanna and – perhaps more alarmingly – its conservation have been neglected relative to its better‐known cousin, the tropical rain forest. In this issue of New Phytologist , Maurin . (pp. 201–214) present important new data that shed light on the evolutionary origin of savannas in Africa. For the first time for African savanna systems, they use evidence from time‐calibrated phylogenetic trees to infer biome history, in particular the appearance of plants with adaptations to savanna fires that burn when the high fuel load of C 4 grasses ignites during the long dry season associated with the highly seasonal savanna climate. Understanding the role of fire in the origin and maintenance of savannas is critical at a time when global
New Phytologist – Wiley
Published: Oct 1, 2014
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