The African Savannah Biome

Grassland environments can be found worldwide. There are many variations of such form of environment. However, every grassland shares the common characteristics of having only about 30 to 50 inches of rain that occurs annually, and uneven seasonal rainfalls. Such amount of rainfall influences the type of vegetation in Savannahalthough not enough to support an entire forest, it is enough to prevent such biome from becoming a desert. As the name implies, grasslands are open spaces where variety of grasses grow, and limited number of trees are scattered throughout the area. Tropical forms of grasslands have wet-dry cycle season (Staten Island Zoological Society 8). In the continent of Africa, the grassland environment is referred to as Savannah. It is in Africa where the largest area of Savannah can be found.

African Savannah
    The African Savannah is a tropical grassland that takes up almost half of the entire continent, stretching to about 5 million square miles. African Savannah is situated between 15 north, 30 south latitude, and 15 east and 40 west longitude of Africa, and covers Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote Divore, Liberia, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique,  Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. This biome is characterized by a grassy ground layer with a distinct layer of woody plants, and serves as a habitat for diverse forms of animals (Maya).

    The climate of this biome is hot all throughout the year, with temperature never dropping to 20c. Rainfall varies from one area to another. Some parts of the Savannah get a lot of rain, while some get very little. During the rainy season (wet season) which usually occurs during the beginning of May and ends, at the most, in November, African Savannah gets 15 to 25 inches of rain per month. This is then followed by a long dry season, occurring from October to March in southern Savannah and April to September in northern Savannah. Dry seasons take place during low sun period, while the wet season occurs during high sun period (Maya).

    Most of the animals living in the African Savannah are plant-eating mammals. As such, grass is the primary vegetation in these regions of Africa. During wet seasons, grasses grow very fast, reaching to about three meters high, and they go into a cycle of flowering and pollination. Once the dry season comes, this vegetation dies as its roots reach deep into the soil for wait, and when the wet season returns, the grass grows back and undergoes the same cycle. Alongside the grass are various kinds of trees which also serve as food sources for large animals. However, the low rainfall, periodic fires, and grazing keep the number of trees very low (The Savanna in Kenya 1-2).

Flora and Fauna
    Due to the semi-arid climate in the African Savvanah, limited varieties of trees and other plants are able to withstand such climate. Acacia Trees are perhaps the most common trees found in African Savannah. Two types of acacia tree grow in the African Savannah the Senegal gum tree, which contain many branches that usually spreads out in a flat rounded top, and the Umbrella thorn acacia, which is considered as one of the most recognizable trees within the African Savannah due to its  flat topped crown that gave it its name. Acacia trees provide shade for many animals in the Savannah. The Baobab tree, which is leafless for nine months making it look upside down, is also common in the African Savannah. Other notable plants that grow in this biome include the Bermuda and elephant grass, Jackalberry tree, Manketti tree, River bushwillow and the Whistling thorn (Maya).

    Aside from trees and plants, the African Savannah is also home for diverse wildlife. In the Serengeti plain, one of the most popular Savvanah grassland in Africa and the world, there about 2 million large plant-eating mammals and 500 species of birds. This African Savannah boasts the largest diversity of hoofed animals or ungulates such as gazelles, antelopes, zebras, wildebeest, rhinoceros and buffaloes. Other familiar mammals found in the African grasslands include the elephants, giraffe, lion, aardwolf, and Chacma baboons to name a few (Maya).

    Bird life also abounds the land and air of African Savannah, of which the ostrich is perhaps the best known. The Ground Hornbill, Starling, and Louries are other birds found within the Savannah, so are the flycatchers, shrikes and green pigeons. Large bird like vultures and hawks, and other birds of prey are also present in some of these grasslands (Staten Island Zoological Society 9).

    Reptiles are also well adapted in the semi-arid climate of the African Savannah. Snakes such as the burrowing pythons, cobras, savannah monitors, and other snakes, along with a variety of lizards, survive the African Savannah by eating rodents and other small mammals and birds. Leopard tortoise and other of its relatives survive on lands, while crocodiles are found in rivers (Staten Island Zoological Society 9).
Food Web
    Just like any other form of biome, the African Savannah follows a food web in order to function and maintain a healthy ecosystem. The abundant grasses and trees in the African Savannah support the vegetation of large groups of grazers and browsers (zebras, elephants etc) or a combination of both. As many as sixteen grazing and browsing species may coexist within the same area of the Savannah, and each of these herbivorous groups has their own food preferences, dividing the resources according to the needs and time of day for each group. However, as not all of the animals in the biome eat plants, most of the grazers and browsers become the prey of carnivorous animals. In this respect, the trees, shrubs, and grass stands as the primary producers the grazers and browsers are the primary consumers, and the carnivores that feed on the primary consumers are considered as the secondary consumers (cheetahs, lions etc.). The carcasses left by the secondary consumers are then consumed by scavengers such as termite, hyenas, and vultures. The remaining group in the food web, the decomposers or detrivores (mushrooms, microorganisms, and insects), feed on the decaying organisms, which in turn carry out the process of decompositionan imperative process for the growth and development of new organisms within the biome (Amsel).

    The year round warmth and wet and dry seasons in the African Savannah can be a futile ground for other living organisms. However, the plants and animals found in these biomes have learned to adapt to these extremes in order to survive. Indeed, many Savannah plants and animals manifest unique and interesting adaptation qualities (Maya).

    Grasses in these areas have very deep roots which make them unharmed during fires. Once the rain returns, these grasses are able to send up new shoots from their roots. Many plants have also developed long taproots like the River bushwillow that allow them to reach down to water, while some kinds of trees, such as the baobab, have fire-resistant barks and trunks where they store water. Acacia trees are capable of emitting foul-tasting and poisonous alkaloids to ward of giraffes from eating their leaves. It has also been found that these trees have the ability to communicate danger to other acacia trees, which in turn emit the same chemicals into their leaves. The same can be said with the candelabra tree, whose white sap contains a poison that can blind animals (Maya).

     As water becomes scarce during the dry season in the African Savannah, many birds and large mammals migrate, and will only return once the rainy season starts. Burrowing animals go into a state of dormancy during this same period as well. Many animals can also withstand long periods without water such as the Giraffe, which only drinks water when it is available. They can survive for weeks without drinking but would also take advantage of the dew and water derived from their food (The Wild Carnivore).

    Some animals have unique physical characteristics that allow them to survive and feed themselves. For instance, the caracal, which is a kind of cat smaller than the leopard, has hind legs that are much longer than its front legs, allowing it to climb trees effectively and hunt birds by leaping into the air. The meerkat live in communities, and each meerkat warns each other of incoming danger (Staten Island Zoological Society 24). The African hedgehog can manipulate its backbone, allowing it to curl up into a ball, exposing its spiny armor whenever a predator threatens it (The Wild Carnivore), while the ostrich runs as fast 31 miles per hour, making it impossible for some predators to run after it (Maya). These and many more are the adaptive qualities of both the plants and animals in the African Savannah that allow them to survive the extreme situation of the said biome.

    Based on the discussion above, it can be inferred that the African Savannah is an extreme environment that serves as a habitat for diverse plant and animal species that captured the beauty of nature. However, as large area of the African continent is made up of various Savannah and due to these environments diverse wildlife, population living in these areas tends to damage these environments in many ways. It is important to note that large areas of Africa that were once Savannah have been destroyed, harming the species living in these areas in the process. Although many efforts are forwarded in order to contain such degradations, there is still a need to establish stronger policies that would further protect Savannah environment. By doing so, wildlife scenes will be prevented from becoming extinct.


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