Fire Ecology, 2013
Volume 9, Issue 2
Contrasting Fire Regimes in a Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest and a Savanna Ecosystem in the Western Ghats, India
Author: Narendran Kodandapani
Tropical dry forests and savannas constitute more than half of all tropical forests and grasslands, but little is known about forest fire regimes within these two extensive types of ecosystems. Forest fire regimes in a predominantly dry forest in India, the Nilgiri landscape, and a predominantly savanna ecosystem in the Sathyamangalam landscape, were examined. Remote sensing data were applied to delineate burned areas, determine fire size characteristics, and to estimate fire rotation intervals. Belt transects (0.5 ha) were used to estimate forest structure, diversity, and fuel loads. Mean area burned, mean number of fires, and mean fire size per year were substantially higher in the Nilgiri landscape compared to the Sathyamangalam landscape. Mean fire rotational interval was 7.1 yr in the Nilgiri landscape and 44.1 yr in the Sathyamangalam landscape. Tree (≥10 cm diameter at breast height) species diversity, tree density, and basal area were significantly higher in the Nilgiri landscape compared to the Sathyamangalam landscape. Total fuel loads were significantly higher in tropical dry and moist deciduous forests in the Nilgiri landscape, but total fuel loads were higher in the tropical dry thorn forests of the Sathyamangalam landscape. Thus, the two landscapes revealed contrasting fire regimes and forest characteristics, with more and four-fold larger fires in the Nilgiri landscape. The dry forests and savannas could be maintained by a combination of factors, such as fire, grazing pressures, and herbivore populations. Understanding the factors maintaining these two ecosystems will be critical for their conservation.