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

Effect of patches of woody vegetation on the role of fire in tropical grasslands and savannas

Frank van Langevelde A D , Casper de Groot A , Thomas A. Groen B , Ignas M. A. Heitkönig A and Ian Gaigher C

A Resource Ecology Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands.

B Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente, PO Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, the Netherlands.

C Lajuma Research Centre, PO Box 522, Makhado 0920, South Africa.

D Corresponding author. Email: frank.vanlangevelde@wur.nl

International Journal of Wildland Fire 23(3) 410-416 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF13119
Submitted: 24 July 2013  Accepted: 12 November 2013   Published: 31 March 2014

Abstract

In tropical grasslands and savannas, fire is used to reduce woody vegetation expansion. Woody vegetation in these biomes is often patchily distributed, and micro-climatic conditions can largely vary locally with unknown consequences for fire effects. We hypothesised that (1) fire has higher temperature and maintains high temperatures for a longer period at the windward side than at the leeward side of wooded patches, (2) this difference increases with patch size, (3) fire has a larger effect on woody vegetation at the windward side than at the leeward side of wooded patches and (4) this effect increases with patch size. We planted tree seedlings around wooded patches in a grassland and burnt these plots. We found that fire had a lower temperature and had an elevated temperature for a shorter time period at the leeward side of wooded patches than at the windward side. Also, we found smaller effect of fire on the seedlings at the leeward side. We conclude that patches of woody vegetation can have a large effect on the role of fire in tropical grasslands and savannas. This effect suggests a ‘safe zone’ for seedlings at the leeward side, which consequently promotes woody vegetation expansion. This paper contributes to understanding of the effect of patchiness of woody vegetation on the role of fire in tropical grasslands and savannas in reducing woody vegetation expansion.

Additional keywords: bush encroachment, fire temperature, micro-climatic variation, seedling growth, spatial heterogeneity.


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