Effects of fire and fire intensity on the germination and establishment of Acacia karroo, Acacia nilotica, Acacia luederitzii and Dichrostachys cinerea in the field

BACKGROUND:While fire has been used in some instances to control the increase of woody plants, it has also been reported that fire may cause an increase in certain fire-tolerant Acacia tree species. This study investigated germination of Acacia karroo, A. luederitzii and Dichrostachys cinerea, thought to be increasing in density, as well as the historically successful encroaching woody species, A. nilotica, in savanna grassland, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa. A. karroo is thought to be replacing A. nilotica as the dominant microphyllous species in the park. We tested the hypothesis that observed increases in certain woody plants in a savanna were related to seed germination and seedling establishment. Germination is compared among species for burnt and unburnt seeds on burnt and unburnt plots at three different locations for both hot and cool fires. RESULTS: Acacia karroo showed higher germination (A. karroo 5.1%, A. nilotica 1.5% and A. luederitzii 5.0%) levels and better establishment (A. karroo 4.9%, A. nilotica 0.4% and A. luederitzii 0.4%). Seeds of the shrub Dichrostachys cinerea did not germinate in the field after fire and it is thought that some other germination cue is needed. On average, burning of A. karroo, A. nilotica and A. luederitzii seeds did not affect germination. There was a significant difference in the germination of burnt seeds on burnt sites (4.5%) and burnt seeds on unburnt plots (2.5%). Similarly, unburnt seeds on unburnt sites germinated better (4.9%) than unburnt seeds on burnt sites (2.8%). CONCLUSION: We conclude that a combination of factors may be responsible for the success of A. karroo and that fires may not be hot enough or may occur at the wrong time of year to control A. karroo establishment in HiP. Although germination and establishment of A. karroo was higher than for A. nilotica a competitive advantage after fire could not be shown.