The macro-charcoal signature in Bwabwata National park, north-east, Namibia: Calibrating surface macro-charcoal with environmental variables

Bachelor Thesis

2014

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University of Cape Town

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Abstract
Fire is a major driver of vegetation patterns in the savanna biome of southern Africa and is hypothesized to allow for the tree-grass co-existence. However, to better understand the drivers of the savanna vegetation structure, more research is required. Furthermore, fire management can benefit greatly from the knowledge of fire history and vegetation change. Palaeo-ecological studies endeavour to fill this knowledge gap by investigating past ecological changes throught the use of paleao-proxies. Charcoal - burned pieces of vegetation - is a proxy for fire and vegetation history. However, little is known about the relationship between charcoal found in sediment and environmental features in the savanna biome. This study aims to fill the knowledge gap by investigating the links between macro-charcoal ( > 150 ìm) from surface samples and fire history and physical characteristics of the landscape, vegetation composition and settlement density. Sediment surface samples (top 2cm) were taken from six sample sites in Bwabwata National Park (BNP), Namibia and analysed for macro-charcoal pieces using the swirling method. Here we show that there is a strong relationship between charcoal abundance and burned area, as well as charcoal abundance and grassy vegetation density. Thus broad inference can be made about the past vegetation composition and burned area by looking at long-term charcoal data. This information is useful for fire management, as past burn history can act as a reference point for current burn policy. This calibration work will inform long-term palaeo-data from sediment cores.
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