Climate, fire and herbivory rank among the key factors and processes shaping savanna woodland community composition and diversity. We analyzed recruitment dynamics, community biomass, diversity, stability and composition and their relationships with rainfall fluctuations and herbivory in a savanna woodland community in the Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya. Seedling and sapling recruitment varied differentially over time among the five commonest tree species. Rainfall exerted both positive and negative effects on recruitment dynamics, with saplings responding to longer rainfall lags than seedlings. The proportion of trees damaged by browsers peaked at intermediate rainfall levels and was higher for adults than seedlings or saplings. Community biomass, species richness and evenness increased with increasing rainfall. Biomass decreased, whereas richness and evenness hardly varied over time. Both rare and common species occurred in more diverse communities, prevalent at high rainfall locations, suggesting strong nestedness in community composition. Moreover, community stability and diversity appeared unrelated. Protection from browsers and lower per capita browsing pressure at high rainfall apparently enable rare species to successfully establish and elevate species diversity. If climate change makes droughts more frequent and intense and lowers soil moisture, browsing intensity could increase, reducing diversity and recruitment, especially of rare, stress-sensitive species.
Key words: Masai Mara, species diversity, habitat filtering, rainfall, browsing, fire, competition, stochastic processes, tree biomass.
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