FIRE IN THE SERENGETI
Beneficial or Harmful?
The answer, for the Serengeti and many other parts of Africa, is that fire is a natural and beneficial part of savannah ecosystems. Grasslands are important carbon sinks that fire helps regenerate.
A recent article by Colin Beale from the University of York states,
"Without fires, many savannahs (and the animals they support) wouldn’t exist, and lighting them is a key management activity in many of the iconic protected areas of Africa. For instance the Serengeti in Tanzania is known worldwide for its safari animals and awe-inspiring wildebeest migration – and our work shows that around half of its grasslands burn each year.
Last year, I led research which helped show how important fire is to biodiversity in these areas. We looked at those parts of the savannah that had a lot of different types of fires – some big, some small, some hot, some cool and sometimes no fire at all – and found they had up to 30% more diverse mammal communities and 40% more diverse bird communities."
This relates back to a report in our April newsletter showing how outside pressure from farms and livestock are degrading land within the Serengeti ecosystem itself. Research found human activity has affected grass cover, soils, beneficial natural fires, and the overall risk from climate change.
In short, fire is an essential part of grassland ecology. In the Serengeti human activities are reducing fire, a risk for the ecosystem’s health and future.
(photo: Jim Zucherman)