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

Shrubland fire regime scenarios in the Swartberg Mountain Range, South Africa: implications for fire management

A. H. W. Seydack A D , S. J. Bekker B and A. H. Marshall C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A South African National Parks, PO Box 3542, Knysna 6570, South Africa.

B Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, Private Bag X100, Cape Town 8000, South Africa.

C Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, Private Bag X658, Oudtshoorn 6620, South Africa.

D Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 16(1) 81-95
Published: 20 February 2007


Over the last seven decades, the Mediterranean-type shrublands of the Swartberg Mountain Range (170 856 ha), South Africa, have been subject to divergent fire management policies. Management objectives sequentially focused on grazing, fire control, water and biodiversity conservation during successive fire management periods. The aim of the present study was to explore the factors that determined the prevailing fire regime patterns during these fire management periods. This was considered particularly relevant in view of the ongoing debate on the relative role of fuel characteristics versus weather and ignition rates in shaping fire regime patterns. The extent of burning followed climatic cycles of alternating periods of relatively high temperatures and summer rainfall with cooler periods and increased winter rainfall. Accordingly, fires occurred more extensively during the former and were largely unaffected by the absence or presence of fire control measures. Fire return intervals were strongly inversely related to productivity of the vegetation. Long-term means between 30 and 55 years were found to apply in low-altitude xeric shrubland types. Corresponding fire return intervals were generally shorter in mesic shrublands at mid to high altitudes (15–30 years). Proteoid shrublands younger than 6 years were practically non-flammable. Two basic fire regime scenarios were identified. Fire regime patterns in xeric shrublands at lower altitudes were largely controlled by the rate of fuel accumulation, whereas climatically controlled ignition frequencies and fire climate constituted the dominant controls in proteoid shrublands at mid to high altitudes. The spatiotemporal distribution of fire regime parameters (fire frequencies, season, size and intensity) as recorded in the present study for the Swartberg Mountain Range under natural fire zone management (predominance of lightning fires since 1980), appeared to be conducive to the maintenance of biodiversity according to our current understanding of the fire–vegetation system.

Additional keywords: fire ecology, fire history, fire regime determinants, lightning fires, Mediterranean-type shrublands, natural fire zone management.


The current study was a collaborative undertaking between South African National Parks, Western Cape Nature Conservation, and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. We acknowledge the support of all three agencies. Numerous foresters and field rangers contributed towards largely complete and accurate fire records. Without their dedication, the current study would not have been possible. Mr Johan Baard (Scientific Management Services, Knysna) is thanked for the production of the graphics. The authors thank Professor William Bond (Botany Department, University of Cape Town), and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper.


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