Fire regimes in eastern coastal fynbos: Imperatives and thresholds in managing for diversity
van Wilgen, B.W.
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Until recently, fire ecology was poorly understood in the eastern coastal region of the Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK), South Africa. Rainfall in the area is aseasonal and temperatures are milder than in the winter-rainfall and drier inland parts of the CFK, with implications for the management of fire regimes. We synthesised the findings of a research programme focused on informing ecologically sound management of fire in eastern coastal fynbos shrublands and explored potential east–west trends at the scales of study area and CFK in terms of fire return interval (FRI) and fire season. FRIs (8–26 years; 1980–2010) were comparable to those elsewhere in the CFK and appeared to be shorter in the eastern Tsitsikamma than in the western Outeniqua halves of the study area. Proteaceae juvenile periods (4–9 years) and postfire recruitment success suggested that for biodiversity conservation purposes, FRIs should be ≥ 9 years in eastern coastal fynbos. Collectively, findings on the seasonality of actual fires and the seasonality of fire danger weather, lightning and post-fire proteoid recruitment suggested that fires in eastern coastal fynbos are not limited to any particular season. We articulated these findings into ecological thresholds pertaining to the different elements of the fire regime in eastern coastal fynbos, to guide adaptive management of fire in the Garden Route National Park and elsewhere in the region. Conservation implications: Wildfires are likely to remain dominant in eastern coastal fynbos, whilst large-scale implementation of prescribed burning is unattainable. Fires occurring in any season are not a reason for concern, although other constraints remain: the need for sufficient fire intensity, safety requirements, and integration of fire and invasive alien plant management.