Escaping the flames: large termitaria as refugia from fire in miombo woodland

Joseph, Grant S., Seymour, Colleen L., Cumming, Graeme S., Mahlangu, Zacheus, and Cumming, David H.M. (2013) Escaping the flames: large termitaria as refugia from fire in miombo woodland. Landscape Ecology, 28 (8). pp. 1505-1516.

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At finer scales, spatial heterogeneity can influence fire intensity and severity. To test whether Macrotermes termite mounds act as fire refugia for woody plants, we assessed effects of fire on individual plants, woody plant structure and composition in a miombo woodland in Zimbabwe, where elephants have decreased tree cover, leading to increased grass cover, fuelling greater intensity fires. We compared exposure to fire on 47 paired mound-matrix plots at three sites. Mound-based woody plants were less exposed to fire than those in matrix positions. Woody species composition differed between mound and matrix, and there were more tall trees on mounds. We assessed grass cover, elephant damage, fire damage and resprouting response for all woody plants found on 10 paired mound-matrix plots that had been equally exposed to severe late dry season fires. Grass cover was three times greater for matrix sites, where 85 % of woody species experienced heavy fire damage, compared to 29 % for mounds. Matrix species were nearly 31 times more likely than mound species to exhibit a vigorous resprouting response after fire damage, all else being equal. The distinct composition of termitaria vegetation has been attributed to edaphic factors. To this should be added the fire-retardant properties of mounds, allowing woody species that might otherwise have been excluded, to persist in a fire-prone system. Thus, spatial pattern created by termitaria is reinforced through exclusion of fire, allowing different species composition and structure. Since termitaria are important for productivity and biodiversity, the refuge effect is significant for the system.

Item ID: 40947
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1572-9761
Keywords: Chizarira National Park, elephant herbivory, macrotermes, ordinal logistic regression, resilience, resprouting, savanna, spatial heterogeneity
Funders: National Research Foundation of South Africa, Southern African Development Community, DST/NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2015 04:03
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050104 Landscape Ecology @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060299 Ecology not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9613 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas > 961308 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas at Regional or Larger Scales @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 50%
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