Burning issues for conservation: A critique of faunal fire research in Southern Africa

  • Published source details Parr C.L. & Chown S.L. (2003) Burning issues for conservation: A critique of faunal fire research in Southern Africa. Austral Ecology, 28, 384-395.


Research into the consequences for fauna of conservation management using prescribed fire is limited and varies in quality. In this study, a review was undertaken of published research undertaken to date concerning the effects of fire management on fauna in fynbos, grassland and savannah habitats in Southern Africa.

Relevant published studies were collated via a literature search. Results of fire ecology research in Southern Africa are frequently only presented in ‘in-house’ conservation organisation reports (i.e. grey literature). Although there may be much useful information within such reports, accessing them is problematic, and it is often extremely difficult to assess information reliability due the absence of careful reporting of methods and results (although findings often becomes adopted as accepted wisdom). For these reasons grey literature was not considered.

A total of 57 relevant published studies reporting the effects of fire on fauna (i.e. incorporating information on one or more faunistic group: 20 on birds; 7 on invertebrates; 19 on small mammals; 15 on large mammals; and 1 on reptiles) published between 1965 and 2002 were identified. Studies published prior to 1965 were found to be primarily observational (non-quantitative) and were therefore excluded.
Few studies used an experimental fire regime or were undertaken over suitably long time scales. Replication was often not reported and where this was done, it was generally inadequate. The majority of studies did not report the size of the study area and often sampling unit size was not given. Despite the importance of fire duration, ignition method, season and time of day of fire, few studies investigated these factors.
The authors conclude that, despite several careful studies, present information on the effects of fire on fauna in Southern Africa savanna, grassland and fynbos habitats is fragmentary. Consequently, it is difficult to make informed management decisions regarding the consequences of burning on the conservation of fauna.
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