Climate Change in Savannas: Exploring the Link Between Biodiversity Loss and Carbon Cycling, Harrison Watson, G3 (3951832)
To adapt to and mitigate the impact of rapidly increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 across the globe, it is critical that we improve our understanding of the land carbon cycle – how carbon dioxide (CO2) is incorporated, stored, and released by land plants. In sub-Saharan Africa, savannas are receiving increasing attention due to their potential to reduce atmospheric concentrations of CO2; however, the importance of savannas in the global carbon cycle has remained difficult to resolve. This owes to the challenge of translating the complex grass-tree dynamics into a coherent carbon cycling framework. Fundamental to this challenge – but greatly understudied – is uncovering how different groups of wild herbivores alter grass-tree dynamics and influence the savanna carbon cycle. This is especially pressing to resolve as wild herbivore communities decline: the consequences of these declines for savanna vegetation, the distribution of nutrients, and carbon storage across the landscape are unclear. Here, I will utilize an experimental setup at Mpala Research Center in Kenya uniquely capable of evaluating the influence of different groups of wild herbivores on the plant dynamics across a landscape exposed to varying amounts of rainfall. My investigation of the influence of vulnerable wild herbivore communities on the globally vital, yet under-studied, savanna carbon cycle will help prepare the communities of sub-Saharan Africa for an uncertain climate future.