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Carla Staver : Positive Feedbacks and the Global Distribution of Biomes

A mechanistic understanding of biome distributions is a critical issue in
modern ecology, especially in the context of predictive models of past and
future climate change. While we can explain the current distribution of
many biomes accurately, our predictions are less successful in dynamic
systems where vegetation-environment feedbacks are significant. The
challenge is to integrate feedbacks more fundamentally into a coherent
theory of ecological process that determines biome distributions
currently, and that will shape them into the future. This is among the
most urgent questions to be addressed in ecology today. Savannas and
grasslands cover ~40% of the land surface and forests cover another ~30%.
Understanding the dynamics among these biomes will help explain biosphere
dynamics, past, present and into the future. I will combine empirical and
theoretical work for insights into the mechanisms that give rise to the
emergent stability of savanna, despite variability in vegetation structure
within the biome.

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