International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Spatial scales influence long-term response of herbivores to prescribed burning in a savanna ecosystem

Duncan M. Kimuyu A B F , Ryan L. Sensenig B C , Robert M. Chira D , John M. Githaiga D and Truman P. Young B E
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Karatina University, PO Box 1957-10101, Karatina, Kenya.

B Mpala Research Centre, PO Box 555-10400, Nanyuki, Kenya.

C Department of Biological Sciences, Goshen College, Goshen, IN 46526, USA.

D School of Biological Sciences, University of Nairobi, PO Box 30197-00100, Nairobi, Kenya.

E Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.

F Corresponding author. Email: dkimuyu@gmail.com

International Journal of Wildland Fire 26(4) 287-295 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF16152
Submitted: 8 August 2016  Accepted: 16 February 2017   Published: 4 April 2017

Abstract

Both wild and prescribed fire in savanna ecosystems influence habitat use by herbivores by creating or maintaining spatial and temporal heterogeneity in forage quality and vegetation cover. Yet little is known about how spatial scales influence long-term persistence of fire effects. We examined changes over a 6-year period in herbivore preference for experimentally burned patches that varied in spatial extent and grain. Avoidance for the burns by elephants and preference for the burns by impala and Grant’s gazelle decreased significantly. For the rest of the species (zebra, eland, oryx, hartebeest, warthog and hare), there were no significant changes in preference for the burns. Changes in preference for the burned areas depended on the spatial extent and grain of the burn, with intermediate-size (9-ha) burns and large (8-ha) patchy burns being more preferred 6–7 years after fire. Grain, but not the spatial extent of the burned area, influenced changes in grass height. Fire resulted in a delayed reduced tree density irrespective of the spatial scale of the burn. Results of this study indicate that, depending on the scale of fire prescription, the impacts of fire on herbivores may last longer than previous studies suggest.

Additional keywords: dung survey, fire frequency, habitat heterogeneity, Laikipia, patchiness, tree cover.


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