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On-line version ISSN 2071-0771
Print version ISSN 0075-6458


DLAMINI, Thobile B. et al. Differential herbivore occupancy of fire-manipulated savannas in the Satara region of the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Koedoe [online]. 2020, vol.62, n.1, pp.1-8. ISSN 2071-0771.

The Kruger National Park's (KNP) long-running experimental burn plots (EBPs) have a history of research projects, which improve the understanding of fire in savanna ecosystems. Using data from KNP's aerial censuses (2005-2016) and in situ dung count data (2008-2017), this study assessed (1) herbivore densities on the Satara, N'Wanetsi and Marheya EBPs, on annual, triennial and no-burn treatments and across pre-, during and post-drought climate conditions; (2) herbivore densities of these EBPs relative to their non-manipulated surroundings and (3) the extent to which distance to water and rainfall influence ungulate densities. The results revealed that herbivore mean density differed significantly between the three EBPs of Satara and across their fire treatments. N'Wanetsi showed the highest density (0.30 animals/ha), whilst the lowest was found at Marheya (0.12 animals/ha). Overall, pre-drought density was higher on the annual plots (0.56 animals/ha), whilst higher post-drought density was evidenced on the triennial plots (0.80 animals/ha). On average, there were significantly higher herbivore densities on the EBPs (2.54 animals/ha) compared to the surrounding matrix at the larger scales of the Satara management section (0.15 animals/ha) and the central KNP (0.18 animals/ha). A positive correlation between herbivore mean density estimate and distance to water was shown. However, grazer mean density across fire treatments was strongly correlated to rainfall. CONSERVATION IMPLICATIONS: Given the variation in fire regimes and their application, and the non-uniform and elevated herbivore densities of the EBPs, inferences from the EBPs cannot be made to the larger KNP. The trials should rather be viewed as an isolated, fire herbivory experiment. It is also recommended to align the experiment with South African National Parks' mandate by including biodiversity parameters like small mammals and insects in the monitoring of the plots.

Keywords : conservation; protected areas; ecosystem management; ecology; fire; herbivore densities; EBPs.

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