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Nelson Mandela University (2020)

Flammability of indigenous and invasive alien woody plants in coastal fynbos and thicket

Msweli, Samukelisiwe Tholakele

Titre : Flammability of indigenous and invasive alien woody plants in coastal fynbos and thicket

Auteur : Msweli, Samukelisiwe Tholakele

Université de soutenance : Nelson Mandela University

Grade : Master of Science (MS) 2020

Résumé partiel
Globally, extreme fires have become more common in wildland-urban interface areas, and more recently, along the southern Cape coast of South Africa. The 2017 Knysna fires prompted greater understanding of the flammability of, and the fire risk posed by, different vegetation groups, which is essential to develop fire risk mitigation strategies. In this study, I experimentally assessed flammability of 30 woody plant species from the vegetation groups indigenous fynbos, thicket, and invasive alien plants (IAPs) that occur along the southern Cape coast. Live plant shoots were sampled across varying fire weather conditions and burnt experimentally to measure flammability in relation to fire weather conditions, fuel moisture, and fuel load. Flammability measures considered were : burn intensity, completeness of burn, time-to-ignition, and the likelihood of spontaneous ignition. I further assessed the flammability of partially dried plant material as a crude proxy for drought effects, to ascertain whether drying of fuels would differentially affect the flammability of the vegetation groups. I used generalized linear mixed-effects models to assess flammability measures in relation to the predictor variables : fire weather, fuel moisture, fuel load, vegetation groups, and species (as a random factor). Results showed that increasing severity of fire weather significantly increased flammability through increasing burn intensity, increasing completeness of burn, increasing the likelihood of spontaneous ignition, and also reducing time-to-ignition. Increasing fuel moisture significantly decreased burn intensity, completeness of burn, and the likelihood of spontaneous ignition. Fuel load significantly increased burn intensity and time-to-ignition. Flammability was highest in IAPs, intermediate in fynbos, and lowest in thicket. IAPs and fynbos showed significantly higher ignitability, and thus present risks under moderate and high fire weather conditions, whereas thicket presents lower risks under low and moderate fire weather conditions. The drying out of fuels considerably increased flammability equally in the three vegetation groups, and by implication, fire risk due to an increase in dead:live ratio. Flammability was furthermore assessed in relation to fuel traits, i.e. the proportion of fine fuels, coarse fuels, and dead fuels, fuel bed porosity, fuel load, and fuel moisture, using multiple regression analysis and stepwise selection of factors.

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Page publiée le 23 janvier 2021