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Spatial scales influence long-term response of herbivores to prescribed burning in a savanna ecosystem
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 six-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 Grantâs gazelle decreased significantly. For the rest of 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 (81 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 that previous studies suggest.
WF16152 Accepted 16 February 2017
© CSIRO 2017