Fire induced stem death in an African acacia is not caused by canopy scorching


*Present address: South African Environmental Observation Network, Ndlovu Node, Box 22, Phalaborwa 1390, South Africa (Email:


Abstract  The death of smaller stems of trees due to fire is widespread in savannas. There are currently two hypotheses as to how tree stems avoid stem death; by (i) growing tall and enabling the terminal buds to escape being scorched; and (ii) growing a larger stem diameter and thus being buffered against the heat of the fire. Laboratory-based tests of these hypotheses on one savanna tree species, Acacia karroo Haynes, support the contention that the important parameter is stem diameter. In addition, anatomical evidence of heat impacts to xylem suggests that damage to the xylem of a stem may play a mechanistic role in causing stem death.