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Fires could help save threatened savannah

Fri, 4th February '11


High-intensity fires might help preserve the large trees of the savannah grasslands of Southern Africa, which are under threat from the encroaching shrubs favoured by rising atmospheric levels of CO2.

This is one of the research topics to be discussed at the Wildfire 2011 conference, which will be held in Sun City, South Africa, from May 9 – 13.

The conference is the hottest event on the international firefighting calendar. The theme this year will be “Living with Fire – Addressing Global Change through Integrated Fire Management.”

Navashni Govender, of South African National Parks, will present a paper she co-authored about research into whether high-intensity fires could help preserve the large trees of the Kruger National Park. The research is the first of its kind for South Africa, if not globally.

Over time, the world-renowned Kruger National Park has seen a steady decrease in the number of large trees, while the layers of woody shrub have been densifying. This encroachment has been recorded over large areas all along the eastern parts of South Africa. Scientists are attributing it to a reduction in fire, overgrazing in many areas and an increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. This favours woody vegetation over savanna grasses, which evolved under lower CO2  conditions.

These changes threaten the savannas, a crucial biome that makes up a large part of Africa’s land cover and sustains millions of people.

The researchers investigated the effect of high-intensity fires on the woody vegetation as well as on the tall trees, which include marula and knobthorn trees, and the fire regime that would allow these tall trees to escape the “fire trap”. 

Preliminary results will be presented at the conference.

The conference is organised by AfriFireNet, the sub-Saharan wildland fire network, and funded by the South African government. It has the backing of the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Issued by HWB Communications Pty Ltd on behalf of  Wildfire 2011
For more information please call:
Evelyn John Holtzhausen, on +27-(0) 82 658 6007
E-mail: evelyn@hwb.co.za