A savanna is a rolling grassland scattered with shrubs and isolated trees, which can be found between a tropical rainforest and desert biome. Not enough rain falls on a savanna to support forests. Savannas are also known as tropical grasslands. They are found in a wide band on either side of the equator on the edges of tropical rainforests.
Savannas have warm temperature year round. There are actually two very different seasons in a savanna; a very long dry season (winter), and a very wet season (summer). In the dry season only an average of about 4 inches of rain falls. Between December and February no rain will fall at all. Oddly enough, it is actually a little cooler during this dry season. But don’t expect sweater weather; it is still around 70° F.
In the summer there is lots of rain. In Africa the monsoon rains begin in May. An average of 15 to 25 inches of rain falls during this time. It gets hot and very humid during the rainy season. Every day the hot, humid air rises off the ground and collides with cooler air above and turns into rain. In the afternoons on the summer savanna the rains pour down for hours. African savannas have large herds of grazing and browsing hoofed animals. Each animal has a specialized eating habit that reduces compitition for food.
There are several different types of savannas around the world. The savannas we are most familiar with are the East African savannas covered with acacia trees. The Serengeti Plains of Tanzania are some of the most well known. Here animals like lions, zebras, elephants, and giraffes and many types of ungulates(animals with hooves) graze and hunt. Many large grass-eating mammals (herbivores) can survive here because they can move around and eat the plentiful grasses. There are also lots of carnivores (meat eaters) who eat them in turn.
South America also has savannas, but there are very few species that exist only on this savanna. In Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela, savannas occupy some 2.5 million square kilometers, an area about one-quarter the size of Canada. Animals from the neighboring biomes kind of spill into this savanna. The Llanos of the Orinoco basin of Venezuela and Columbia is flooded annually by the Orinoco River. Plants have adapted to growing for long periods in standing water. The capybara and marsh deer have adapted themselves to a semi-aquatic life.
Brazil’s cerrado is an open woodland of short twisted trees. The diversity of animals is very great here, with several plants and animals that don’t exist anywhere else on earth.
There is also a savanna in northern Australia. Eucalyptus trees take the place of acacias in the Australian savanna. There are many species of kangaroos in this savanna but not too much diversity of different animals
Plants of the savannas are highly specialized to grow in this environment of long periods of drought. They have long tap roots that can reach the deep water table, thick bark to resist annual fires, trunks that can store water, and leaves that drop of during the winter to conserve water. The grasses have adaptations that discourage animals from grazing on them; some grasses are too sharp or bitter tasting for some animals, but not others, to eat. The side benefit of this is that every species of animal has something to eat. Different species will also eat different parts of the grass. Many grasses grow from the bottom up, so that the growth tissue doesn’t get damaged by grazers. Many plants of the savanna also have storage organs like bulbs and corms for making it though the dry season.
Most of the animals on the savanna have long legs or wings to be able to go on long migrations. Many burrow under ground to avoid the heat or raise their young. The savanna is a perfect place for birds of prey like hawks and buzzards. The wide, open plain provides them with a clear view of their prey, hot air updrafts keep them soaring, and there is the occasional tree to rest on or nest in. Animals don’t sweat to lose body heat, so they lose it through panting or through large areas of exposed skin, or ears, like those of the elephant.
The savanna has a large range of highly specialized plants and animals. They all depend on the each other to keep the environment in balance. There are over 40 different species of hoofed mammals that live on the savannas of Africa. Up to 16 different species of browsers (those who eat leaves of trees) and grazers can coexist in one area. They do this by having their own food preferences, browsing/grazing at different heights, time of day or year to use a given area, and different places to go during the dry season.
These different herbivores provide a wide range of food for carnivores, like lions, leopards, cheetahs, jackals and hyenas. Each species has its own preference, making it possible to live side by side and not be in competition for food.
In many parts of the savannas of Africa people have started using it to graze their cattle and goats. They don’t move around and soon the grasses are completely eaten up. With no vegetation, the savanna turns into a desert. Huge areas of savanna are lost to the Sahara desert every year because of overgrazing and farming.