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Savanna is grassland with scattered individual trees. Savannas of one sort or another cover almost half the surface of Africa (about five million square miles, generally central Africa) and large areas of Australia, South America, and India. Climate is the most important factor in creating a savanna. Savannas are always found in warm or hot climates where the annual rainfall is from about 50.8 to 127 cm (20-50 inches) per year. It is crucial that the rainfall is concentrated in six or eight months of the year, followed by a long period of drought when fires can occur. If the rain were well distributed throughout the year, many such areas would become tropical forest. Savannas which result from climatic conditions are called climatic savannas.
Savannas that are caused by soil conditions and that are not entirely maintained by fire are called edaphic savannas. These can occur on hills or ridges where the soil is shallow, or in valleys where clay soils become waterlogged in wet weather. A third type of savanna, known as derived savanna, is the result of people clearing forest land for cultivation. Farmers fell a tract of forest, burn the dead trees, and plant crops in the ashes for as long as the soil remains fertile. Then, the field is abandoned and, although forest trees may recolonize, grass takes over on the bare ground (succession), becoming luxuriant enough to burn within a year or so. In Africa, a heavy concentration of elephants in protected parkland have created a savanna by eating leaves and twigs and breaking off the branches, smashing the trunks and stripping the bark of trees.
Elephants can convert a dense woodland into an open grassland in a short period of time. Annual fires then maintain the area as a savanna. The soil of the savanna is porous, with rapid drainage of water. It has only a thin layer of humus (the organic portion of the soil created by partial decomposition of plant or animal matter), which provides vegetation with nutrients. Savanna has both a dry and a rainy season. Seasonal fires play a vital role in the savanna biodiversity. In October, a series of violent thunderstorms, followed by a strong drying wind, signals the beginning of the dry season.
Fire is prevalent around January, at the height of the dry season. Antelope, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, kangaroos, mice, moles, gophers, ground squirrels, snakes, worms, termites, beetles, lions, leopards, hyenas, and elephants all live in savannas.
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