The influence of fire on mopane and red bushwillow trees in Gonarezhou
The influence of fire on mopane and red bushwillow trees in Gonarezhou A paper on the "Influence of fire frequency on Colophospermum mopane and Combretum apiculatum woodland structure and composition in northern Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe" appears in the latest issue of the SANParks journal, Koedoe.
We investigated the long-term effects of fire frequency on Colophospermum mopane and Combretum apiculatum woodland structure and composition in northern Gonarezhou National Park (GNP), Zimbabwe. Fire frequency was categorised as high (every 1-2 years), medium (every 3-4 years) and low (every 5-6 years). The following variables were measured or recorded: plant height, species name, canopy depth and diameter, basal circumference, number of stems per plant, plant status (dead or alive) and number of woody plants in a plot.
There was a positive correlation (r = 0.55, P = 0.0007) between annual area burnt (total from January to December) and annual rainfall (average over two rain stations per rain year, July to June) between 1972 and 2005.
A total of 64 woody species were recorded from C.mopane and C. apiculatum woodlands. Mean plant height increased from 4.5 to 8.2 meters in C. mopane woodland and from 4.5 to 5.1 meters in C.apiculatum woodland in areas subjected to high and low fire frequencies. In C. mopane woodland, low fire frequency was characterised by a significantly low density of woody plants (P < 0.001), however, with a significantly high mean basal area (P < 0.001). Fire frequency had no significant effect on species diversity (P > 0.05).
Our results suggest that C. mopane and C. apiculatum woodlands are in a state of structural transformation. Fire frequency effects, however, appear to be woodland specific. Fire management strategies in GNP should take into consideration annual rainfall and the different vegetation types.
Conservation implication: This study provides valuable information on fire frequency effects on woody vegetation in northern GNP, which can be used in fire management programmes for the park. The positive relationship between annual rainfall and annual area burnt emphasises the need for wildlife managers to consider annual rainfall in fire management.
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