DAKAR, SENEGAL (15 February 2013)Scientists at the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners have developed specialized graphs that map out fire behavior, known as nomographs, for landscape managers in Africa's savannas. The study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Arid Environments, pinpoints the optimal conditions for setting early-season prescribed firesa process that when executed and timed properly, reduces the risk and impact of late dry season bushfires in increasingly fragile ecosystems, both of which are exacerbated by climate change.
Researchers say the findings signify an important step for Africa's Sudanian and Sahelian savannas, which have historically relied on less accurate methods to time early-dry-season controlled fires. The study finds it is necessary to use tools that consider both fuel characteristics and weather conditions, when planning these prescribed fires.
Fire has been battled by land managers for decades, but that doesn't make it a foe. In seasonally-dry savanna ecosystems which dominate nearly half of Africa's surface area naturally-occurring wildfires are critical to maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem function.
"The key to fighting fire with fire is robust science," said Cheikh Mbow, senior climate change scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre. "In the past, forest managers did not have the tools and methods needed to define what to burn, when to burn it, and to what extent. Our research is helping transform an age-old practice into a modern-day tool for managing fires and ecosystems in West Africa. This is a simple statistical tool that can be replicated most anywhere."
The scientists selected three areas representative of Senegalese savanna ecosystems, ranging from the open savanna of the Sahel to the more treed south-Sudanian savanna. They worked with Senegal's Forestry Service to torch 231 prescribed 10-by-10 meter plots (an area roug
|Contact: Julie-Anne Savarit-Cosenza
World Agroforestry Centre