We examined the effect of fire frequency and intensity on a Protea caffra tree population in the temperate montane grasslands of north-western KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. We assessed the effect of fire by comparing the population structure of the resprouter P. caffra in discrete bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) patches with that in the surrounding grassland matrix. Fuel biomass did not differ between grassland and bracken, but bracken fuel was significantly drier than grass. Above-ground fire temperatures and fireline intensity, measured by P. caffra char height, were significantly higher in the bracken habitat. Forty-two percent of the P. caffra population in grassland and in bracken persisted by coppice resprouts, having lost their original stem to fire damage. Exposure to higher intensity bracken fire suppressed P. caffra regeneration and caused greater adult mortality compared with trees in grassland. Consequently, the P. caffra population in bracken was skewed towards old age with most trees severely fire damaged. The high incidence of small trees in grassland indicates that a regular fire interval of 2-3 years does not negatively affect regeneration of P. caffra. However, in bracken patches regular high intensity fires cause high mortality among all P. caffra size classes and will ultimately result in local extinction. Bracken thus has the potential to significantly alter tree-grass interactions in these montane grasslands. � 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
|Number of pages||10|
|Early online date||23 Jul 2011|
|Publication status||Published - Dec 2011|