A9: Modelling, management and restoration of grassland savannas in southern Africa

PhD student: Bastian Heß
Thesis Committee: Kerstin Wiegand, Katrin Meyer, Thomas Kneib

The focus of our project lies on grass composition and woody plant encroachment in savannas in South Africa and the factors that influence tree-grass-bare ground ratios. The factors and processes that have an important impact on the vegetation dynamics are mainly: precipitation, temperature, plant dynamics like seed dispersal, germination, biomass production and mortality as well as the different management variables like the type of animals, stocking rate, type of grazing/browsing system, and removal of woody vegetation (human and fire). I will investigate these drivers of savanna dynamics, how they lead to degraded savannas and how the landscape properties interact on different temporal and spatial scales.

More specifically, the goal of my PhD is to develop model-based tools for testing alternative savanna restoration options. The models will link local and landscape-level remotely sensed data to investigate how different management strategies lead to overall recovery or degradation of the vegetation condition at the landscape scale. Some of the key questions that I want to answer are:
(1) What is the importance of observed patterns of changes in vegetation dynamics?
(2) How can management strategies be adopted to ensure a sustainable use of the natural resources and minimize land degradation and woody encroachment in the long term?

Model parameterization and validation will be based on remote sensing data, literature and in-situ investigations.

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