Woody plant encroachment of grasslands: A comparison of terrestrial and wetland settings

Neil Saintilan*, Kerrylee Rogers

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    76 Citations (Scopus)


    A global trend of woody plant encroachment of terrestrial grasslands is co-incident with woody plant encroachment of wetland in freshwater and saline intertidal settings. There are several arguments for considering tree encroachment of wetlands in the context of woody shrub encroachment of grassland biomes. In both cases, delimitation of woody shrubs at regional scales is set by temperature thresholds for poleward extent, and by aridity within temperature limits. Latitudinal expansion has been observed for terrestrial woody shrubs and mangroves, following recent warming, but most expansion and thickening has been due to the occupation of previously water-limited grassland/saltmarsh environments. Increases in atmospheric CO2, may facilitate the recruitment of trees in terrestrial and wetland settings. Improved water relations, a mechanism that would predict higher soil moisture in grasslands and saltmarshes, and also an enhanced capacity to survive arid conditions, reinforces local mechanisms of change. The expansion of woody shrubs and mangroves provides a negative feedback on elevated atmospheric CO2 by increasing carbon sequestration in grassland and saltmarsh, and is a significant carbon sink globally. These broad-scale vegetation shifts may represent a new stable state, reinforced by positive feedbacks between global change drivers and endogenic mechanisms of persistence in the landscape.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1062-1070
    Number of pages9
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015


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