Fire Dynamics and Woody Cover Changes in the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem 2000 to 2005 - A Remote Sensing Approach
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The Serengeti-Mara savanna environment in East Africa is characterized by changing levels of woody cover and a dynamic fire regime. The relative proportion of woodland to grassland savanna affects animal habitat, biodiversity, and carbon storage, and is regulated by factors such as the fire regime (frequency, intensity, seasonality), and precipitation. The main objectives of this dissertation are to determine recent changes in woody cover at a regional scale and identify fire regimes and climate associated with these changes. Understanding these relationships is important for the assessment of future trajectories of woody cover under changing climate. Required spatially coherent data layers can only be obtained at the regional scale through the analysis of remote sensing data. Woody cover changes between 2000 and 2005 were derived from field data and a time series of MODIS satellite imagery at 500 m spatial resolution. Data layers on the controlling variables (fire frequency, seasonality, intensity and rainfall) were developed using a combination of remote sensing and model-based approaches. Burned areas were mapped using daily MODIS imagery at 250 m resolution. Outputs were used to make the requisite layers depicting fire frequency and seasonality. Fire intensity was derived using a model based on empirical relationships, mainly estimating fire fuel load as a function of rainfall and grazing. The combined data layers were analyzed using regression and decision tree techniques. Results suggest woody cover in central and northern Serengeti National Park continued to increase after 2000. Woody cover decreases were strongest in the wider Maswa Game Reserve area (MSW) under low precipitation conditions and late season burning. Woody cover losses in burned areas were also higher in the low fire frequency region of the Maasai Mara National Reserve (MNR). Fire seasonality was the most important fire regime parameter controlling woody cover in burned woodland savanna areas while fire intensity was most relevant for grassland savanna areas. Continued late season burning in drought years might cause further decrease of woody cover in MSW. MNR is expected to continue to be dominated by grassland savanna at similar fire frequency and browsing levels.