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J Environ Manage. 2005 May;75(3):189-98.

Effects of anthropogenic fire history on savanna vegetation in northeastern Namibia.

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  • 1Noragric, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 5003, Parkgarden Room 209, N-1432 As, Norway.


Anthropogenic fires in Africa are an ancient form of environmental disturbance, which probably have shaped the savanna vegetation more than any other human induced disturbance. Despite anthropogenic fires having played a significant role in savanna management by herders, previous ecological research did not incorporate the traditional knowledge of anthropogenic fire history. This paper integrates ecological data and anthropogenic fire history, as reconstructed by herders, to assess landscape and regional level vegetation change in northeastern Namibia. We investigated effects of fire frequency (i.e. <5, 5-10 and >10 years) to understand changes in vegetation cover, life form species richness and savanna conditions (defined as a ratio of shrub cover to herbaceous cover). Additionally, we analysed trends in the vegetation variables between different fire histories at the landscape and regional scales. Shrub cover was negatively correlated to herbaceous cover and herbaceous species richness. The findings showed that bush cover homogenisation at landscape and regional scales may suggest that the problem of bush encroachment was widespread. Frequent fires reduced shrub cover temporarily and promoted herbaceous cover. The effects on tree cover were less dramatic. The response to fire history was scale-independent for shrub, herbaceous and tree cover, but scale-dependent for the richness of grass and tree life forms. Fire history, and not grazing pressure, improved savanna conditions. The findings emphasise the need to assess effects of anthropogenic fires on vegetation change before introducing new fire management policies in savanna ecosystems of northeastern Namibia.

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