Media Release: Fire Science in the Kruger National Park
Fire is a tool used to rejuvenate savanna ecosystems and boost biodiversity, but in order to achieve the maximum benefit, it is important that the fire must not be too intense. This is yet another message that was heard at the 2008 Science Network Meeting, which is currently going on at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park.
SavFIRE (the Savanna Fire Ignition Research Experiment) is a multi-year experiment to investigating the effect of different types of ignition on fire patterns and its resulting effect on biodiversity. Professor Winston Trollope, Working on Fire International Associate, is doing this research together with Ms Navashni Govender, a SANParks fire ecologist in the Kruger National Park. They work with a team of fire technicians, trained fire fighters and volunteers. Their results will inform policy makers and managers in Kruger to ensure the optimal use of fire at the right time, intensity and frequency.
Researchers have found that point ignitions (where the fire is started at a single spot) are more natural than perimeter burns (where a block is burnt down). As a result, point-ignited fires result in a range of diverse habitats and therefore promote biodiversity more effectively. But, point ignitions are more difficult to control and pose a greater risk of getting out of hand. Researchers are therefore trying to find out whether smaller block burns, under specific conditions, could achieve a similar positive effect.
SavFIRE is being conducted in three main veld types in the Kruger National Park, the Lowveld Sour Bushveld of the Pretoriuskop area, the Knoppiesdoring-Marula Veld of the Satara region and the Mopane Veld in the Mopane/Shingwedzi region.
Paired plots of increasing size are being burnt simultaneously, so that the weather conditions are the same, in order to compare the effects of the two types of ignition and the effect size of block has on fire behaviour and the resultant fire patterns. All experimental fires are only started under very specific conditions: A temperature lower than 20 degrees Celsius, relative humidity higher than 50% and wind speed less than 10 km per hour.
Extensive data is collected on the ground before and after the fire. This is used together with aerial photos and satellite images to study fire behaviour, fire patterns and to compare the effects of point and perimeter ignitions.
Fire research in the Kruger National Park also offers temporary employment opportunities to people from disadvantaged communities, thereby helping to alleviate poverty in the area.
Raymond Travers, Media Relations Practitioner, Kruger National Park. Contact: Tel: 013 735 4116, cell: 082 908 2677
William Mabasa, HOD: Public Relations and Communications, Kruger National Park. Contact: Tel: 013 735 4363, cell: 082 807 3919
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