Pacifici M., Visconti P., Scepi E., Hausmann A., Attorre F., Grant R. & Rondinini C. (2015). Fire policy optimization to maximize suitable habitat for locally rare species under different climatic conditions: A case study of antelopes in the Kruger National Park.
Biological Conservation, 191, 313-321. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.07.021
Fire is a key ecosystem driver in savannahs and it can have large impacts on species distribution and density. A re-examination of fire management in Kruger National Park is currently under review with the objective to maintain natural ecosystem dynamics and favour tourists’ ability to observe animals. We used data on location, intensity and frequency of fires and census data on three species considered as rare and of conservation concern in the park, tsessebe, roan and sable antelope to estimate the relationship between fire occurrence and species occurrence and density. We also investigated the impacts of different environmental predictors on antelope populations. The model predictors that most affected the density and presence of antelopes were mean fire return period, the type of geological substrate and the presence of water-points. We then used our models to evaluate different fire management scenarios and make recommendations for an optimal fire management strategy for the conservation of these rare antelopes. We also tested our scenarios under different precipitation conditions, in order to investigate the likely response of species to climate change. Roan antelope is the most sensitive species to climatic variations, while sable seems to be the most resilient. The approach described here can also be used to improve the conservation of locally rare species in other regions and habitats.