The SEOSAW partnership holds plot data from across the woodlands and savannas of southern Africa. A major activity of SEOSAW is collating these data and conducting regional analyses of the structure and function of the region’s vegetation.
The long-term goal of SEOSAW is to understand the response of southern African woodlands to global change.
1. Novel analyses of the determinants of ecosystem structure and function for the region; these will answer key science questions for the first time at a subcontinental scale, and showcase the new data set.
2. Standardised methods for plot design and measurement, tailored to the socio-ecology of African woodlands.
3. A long-term regional plan for plot remeasurement supported by the Global Land Project and the Miombo Network.
Shifts in vegetation structure and ecosystem service provision in the woodlands have been hypothesised to result from altered fire regimes, an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising CO2 concentrations, and increasing human use. These changes could threaten future provision of ecosystem services to rural and urban people who depend directly upon these woodlands for fuel, food, medicines and other materials, and indirectly via their role in nutrient cycling which supports the region’s agriculture (Ryan et al. 2016). Global change is also predicted to increase the carbon stored in African woodlands from 14 to 34 Pg by 2100, a change comparable to the mass of C currently stored in the Congo basin forests (Scheiter et al. 2009). However, there is currently no regional network of observations to evaluate if such changes are underway, and little testing or validation of model predictions against relevant data. Indeed, such models are generally based only on understanding and validation from South African national parks, or other continents (Staver et al. 2011), neither of which represent the woodland’s functional ecology or social context (Lehmann et al. 2014).
SEOSAW will address this by synthesising data from across the region, and making it easily accessible for regional analyses and modelling efforts. It will also develop a set of standardised methodologies and new collaborations to improve future observations. It will do so by creating a novel partnership of >18 research groups, currently working on 2269 plots spread across the region, and developing the intellectual infrastructure to support collaborative research for the long term.