Fire and herbivory are the two consumers of above-ground biomass globally. They have contrasting impacts as they differ in terms of selectivity and temporal occurrence. Here, we integrate continental-scale data on fire and herbivory in Africa to explore (i) how environmental drivers constrain these two consumers and (ii) the degree to which each consumer affects the other. Environments conducive to mammalian herbivory are not necessarily the same as those conducive to fire, although their spheres of influence do overlap—especially in grassy ecosystems which are known for their frequent fires and abundance of large mammalian herbivores. Interactions between fire and herbivory can be competitive, facultative or antagonistic, and we explore this with reference to the potential for alternative ecosystem states. Although fire removes orders of magnitude more biomass than herbivory their methane emissions are very similar, and in the past, herbivores probably emitted more methane than fire. We contrast the type of herbivory and fire in different ecosystems to define ‘consumer-realms’.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Tropical grassy biomes: linking ecology, human use and conservation’.
One contribution of 15 to a theme issue ‘Tropical grassy biomes: linking ecology, human use and conservation’.
- Accepted June 14, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.