Savannas of Asia: biogeography, history and current day ecology

The savannas of Asia have long been overlooked by the vegetation scholars of this region. In this talk, I will describe the historical reasons for this bias, and how it has resulted in both a misclassification of Asian savanna systems and a misunderstanding of their functional ecology. I will use a bio-climatic approach to outline where the savannas of Asia potentially exist, and then focus on the Indian region to ask what we know and understand of the vegetation types that exist within this climatic envelope. Using a functional traits framework and drawing on examples from savanna and forest systems elsewhere on the globe, I will consider how the functional traits of savanna communities are indicative of strategies shaped by their distinctive environments. I will then compare these examples with some recent data from Indian savannas to contextualize their functional ecology.

Jayashree Ratnam is a community and ecosystems ecologist, interested in understanding tropical vegetation dynamics, particularly from the perspectives of plant functional traits and nutrient flows. In past work, she has studied large-scale drivers of vegetation structure and nutrient dynamics in African savanna ecosystems. In ongoing work, she is exploring functional differences between savanna and forest communities in the Asian tropics, the ecology of fire- and drought-resistance in savanna and dry-forest trees and the carbon dynamics of Asian forest systems. She is currently at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, where she is Associate Director of the Wildlife Biology and Conservation program, and Affiliate scientist with the Ecosystems Ecology group.