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


Corresponding author. Present address: Department of Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X01, Matieland 7602, South Africa (Email: clp@sun.ac.za).


Abstract  Fire is a key ecological process in several biomes worldwide. Although many conservation agencies have the protection of biodiversity as at least one of their major goals, information on the effects of fire on fauna in these biomes is fragmentary. Here we provide an overview of the published research undertaken to date on the effects of fire on fauna using examples from Southern Africa. We found that few studies have examined the effects of fire on amphibians or reptiles, and work on invertebrates is likewise sparse. The majority of studies that have been published are observational reports, and few experimental studies have been undertaken using an experimental fire regime, or over appropriately long time intervals. Replication was often not reported and where this was done, it was generally inadequate. The majority of the studies failed to report the area over which the studies were undertaken and sampling unit size was often not reported. Despite the importance of fire duration, ignition method, season and time of day of fire, few studies investigated these variables. We conclude that at present the information on the effects of fire on fauna in Southern Africa is fragmentary and, consequently, informed management decisions regarding the consequences of burning policies on the conservation of biodiversity both within and outside protected areas are problematic. We recommend that future studies, both in Southern Africa and elsewhere, be based on a suite of large-scale and experimental approaches (the latter firmly grounded in the principles of sound experimental design), use non-classical statistics to explore the effects of large-scale or unreplicated fires, and where possible include baseline information such as that gathered in fragmentation experiments.