Surviving on the savanna: how do traits predict tree success?

University of Missouri
South Africa
Open Access
DOI: 10.18258/1489
Raised of $3,000 Goal
Funded on 4/14/14
Successfully Funded
  • $3,170
  • 105%
  • Funded
    on 4/14/14

About This Project

Measuring tree traits is a fast, inexpensive and effective way to gather information on how tree species withstand environmental pressures. It's especially useful for understanding dynamic systems such as savannas. By measuring traits for key tree species this research will provide valuable knowledge that can be used by park managers, climate scientists, savanna ecologists and local communities that depend on tree populations for vital resources.

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What is the context of this research?

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What is the significance of this project?

The data generated by this research can be used in the study of many important questions in savanna ecology:

- As with other ecosystems, climate change poses a severe risk to savanna systems. By understanding where and why tree species are successful, we can predict how populations will shift with changing environmental conditions, which will in turn allow us to predict changes in the animal populations that depend on them.

What are the goals of the project?

- Measure a suite of traits (leaf, whole plant, hydrological, regenerative, stem, demographic) for 30+ key savanna tree species

- Sample tree communities across soil, fire and rainfall gradients, and across species' distributions

- Collect seeds and germinate seedlings in the Skukuza nursery to measure seedling traits


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This project is already underway! An existing GAANN grant has paid for travel costs and researcher salaries and so Experiment funds will be spent entirely on improving the scope and impact of the project. The success of the research depends on the amount of ground covered and the number of sites visited, and both will be determined by available funds. If the stretch goal is reached, the money will be used to extend our field season and to increase the number of species we sample.

Endorsed by

There is still much that we don't understand about fundamental savanna ecology. Given the importance of African savannas for both biodiversity and rural livelihoods, it is important that we gain a better predictive understanding of drivers of savanna composition, structure and function. This is particularly important in the face of the impacts of climate change and more immediate anthropogenic disturbances. Keala's study will make an important contribution in this regard.
This project has the potential to dramatically improve our understanding of tree species distributions and diversity in African savannas. We need to know how drought, fire and herbivory control the structure and composition of these tree communities. This project will move us closer to this goal and to understanding how savannas will respond to climate change, which is predicted to alter rainfall and fire regimes globally.

Meet the Team

Keala Cummings
Keala Cummings
PHD Student


University of Missouri
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Team Bio

Keala has studied plant ecology around the globe, from the rain forests of Costa Rica to the arctic marshes of Finland, but it's the tropical savannas of South Africa that have truly inspired her curiosity (and captured her heart). She received a B.A. Scripps College in 2009 and has conducted research for the Audubon Society, University of Northern Arizona, and Harvard Forest She is now working to earn her PhD in Ecology from the University of Missouri, under the mentorship of Dr. Ricardo Holdo.

Keala Cummings


Project Backers

  • 32Backers
  • 105%Funded
  • $3,170Total Donations
  • $99.06Average Donation
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