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Fire and grazers in the West African savanna

Promotores: H.A. Udo de Haes, H.H.T. Prins, Co-promotor: H.H. de Iongh

Erik Klop
03 september 2009
Thesis in Leiden Repository

Africa is often called ‘the fire continent’ based on the high frequency and large extent of burning. Over 200 million hectares of land are regularly burned, mostly savanna areas. In this thesis the ecological effects of fire on savanna herbivores in Bénoué National Park in North Cameroon are described. Analyses of grass quality show that unburned grass swards are of insufficient quality to sustain grazing herbivores during the dry season. Post-fire regrowth, however, is of much better quality, as it contains higher nutrient levels and higher digestibility. As a result, herbivores strongly prefer to graze on burned swards. This is more than just a simple food preference: most grazers probably would not survive the dry season on unburned swards. Because of this, fire proves to be a major factor governing diversity patterns of herbivores, both at the local scale (the park) and at larger scales (West Africa as a whole). In this thesis it is argued that the species richness of grazing herbivores throughout West Africa is primarily governed by fire, rather than by moisture or soil fertility. Without fire it would thus be impossible to maintain current diversity levels of herbivores in the Guinea savanna zone of West Africa.

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