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Patterns of plant functional traits in the biogeography of West African grasses (Poaceae)

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Grasses (Poaceae) are the largest family of vascular plants in Burkina Faso with 254 species. In the savannahs they are the most important family in terms of abundance and species richness, in other habitats, such as gallery forests, there are only few species. On the country scale there is a change in growth form: while in the Sahelian north most grasses are small therophytes, the Sudanian south is characterized by tall, often perennial grasses. To analyse these patterns in detail, we compiled a database on grass occurrences and used it in an ecological niche modelling approach with the programme Maxent to obtain countrywide distribution models. Secondly we used data on photosynthetic type, height, leaf width and growth form to aggregate the species distributions and quantified the relative importance of functional groups per grid cell. Pronounced latitudinal differences could be shown for life forms, photosynthesis and size: the drier north is characterized by smaller, mainly therophytic grasses with a high share of C4 NADME photosynthesis, while the more humid south is characterized by tall, often hemicryptophytic grasses with C4 NADPME photosynthesis. For leaf width, no clear countrywide patterns could be observed, but local differences with more broadleaved grasses in humid areas.

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