Vegetation secondary succession in response to time since last fire in a broad-leaved savanna in central Namibia
Keywords:fire occurrence, fuel loads, grazing value, Namibia, space-for-time, vegetation secondary succession, Waterberg Plateau Park
Savanna ecosystems developed as a response to frequent fires, and to date, fire plays an important role in shaping the vegetation structure of these ecosystems. Yet, little research on the effect of fire on Namibian savanna, especially at the more arid end of the rainfall gradient, has been done. This study was conducted at the Waterberg Plateau National Park, which experiences a range of fire frequencies, with the fire return period and time since last fire relatively well-known since 1976. Four fire blocks last burned 1, 2, 14 and 24 years ago prior to the study (2014) were surveyed, with the objective to assess the secondary succession after fire of perennial grasses and woody plants in terms of density, cover and species composition in a broad-leaved savanna on dystrophic sandy soils. Findings revealed that fire positively affects the grass component by increasing grass density and grass productivity (p<0.05). On the other hand, as in most southern African savannas, time after fire did not result in a significant change in overall woody plant density (p>0.05) but led to a steady increase in woody canopy cover and height (p<0.05), thus reducing the amount of browse available for small to medium sized browsers. Overall plant species composition did not significantly change with time after fire, although when grass species were grouped into grazing value categories, species with high grazing value declined with time after fire. Recent fires thus improve grazing and browsing opportunities, without significant plant species successional changes, but rather with significant plant structural succession.
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