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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Effect of fire on the palatability of plants in an African woodland savanna: varying impacts depending on plant functional groups

Stolter, Caroline; Joubert, David F.; Uunona, Nekulilo; Nghalipo, Elise; Amputu, Vistorina; Felton, Annika M.


Fire and herbivores are two important drivers of changes in vegetation composition, quality and dynamics and both are highly related to each other. Herbivores are known to respond to fire both in terms of foraging decisions and distribution. However, little is known about the actual changes in plant chemistry following a fire event and how long these changes will last. We investigated the effect of fire on two different plant functional groups (grasses and woody species) in a woodland savanna of southern Africa. We studied chemical compounds known to be important for palatability of five perennial grass and seven woody species (trees and shrubs) common in the woodland savanna and known to be utilized by herbivores. We wanted to know if plant chemistry differs between a recently burned site (burned 2 years ago) and a control site, burned 16 years ago, and if grasses and woody species show similar relative differences between sites (i.e., the plants' response to fire). We found a clear difference in chemical composition patterns between the plant functional groups, with an almost homogenous response to fire among woody species, but higher variability in response among grass species. Furthermore, we found that woody species maintained a higher nutritional value even 2 years after burning, whereas grasses did not show clear differences among the two investigated sites. Hence, few years after burning, woody plants might still serve as an attraction for herbivores, especially browsers, in contrast to grasses. The knowledge about these differences between the two functional groups in response to fire is beneficial for the development of management strategies for large herbivores whether domestic or wild.


Grassland; Rangeland; Feed; Plant response; Fire; Plant quality; Herbivores; Grasses; Trees; Food quality

Published in

2022, volume: 10, article number: e12721
Publisher: PEERJ INC

Authors' information

Stolter, Caroline
University of Hamburg
Joubert, David F.
Namibia University of Science and Technology
Uunona, Nekulilo
Namibia University of Science and Technology
Nghalipo, Elise
Namibia University of Science and Technology
Amputu, Vistorina
Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre

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