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Texas savanna fire lessons for Fynbos Forum 2009


Getting to grips with the effects of fire on Texas savanna – Dr Mark Simmons does control burns as part of his long-term research at the Native Ecosystem Research Program at the University of Texas at Austin (Photo: Donovan Kirkwood)


Dr Mark  Simmons explores the grassy Silcrete Renosterveld at a research site outside Bredasdorp during a Fynbos Forum 2009 field trip (Photo: Donovan Kirkwood)


Donovan Kirkwood, Ecological Planner: Tourism Infrastructure

SAEON funding allowed Dr Mark Simmons from the Native Ecosystem Research Program at the University of Texas at Austin, USA to expose the fynbos community to his innovative ecosystem engineering research approach.

Dr Simmons’s presentation of long-term work on effects of prescribed fire in Texas savanna  stimulated huge interest at the 2009 Fynbos Forum meeting in Bredasdorp. With no comparable experimental research programme on impacts of fire in the Cape Floristic Region, Dr Simmons was able to show that only properly replicated studies stretching over a decade or more can provide a sound understanding of the effects of fire, and predict the impact of particular prescribed burning regimes in savannas. For the Cape, where fire is managed largely according to received wisdom and simple measures from natural experiments, his results showing that complete reversal of current best practice in Texas was required for control of invasive exotic grasses, were most interesting.

The research shows that despite the necessary limitations of artificially small experimental fires, the advantages of a properly controlled long-term study yield huge benefits in terms of being able to accurately predict response of different ecosystem components to season of burn and past history.

This work is directly relevant to understanding how we can most efficiently explore the same questions in critically endangered Renosterveld systems further threatened by grass invasion.  It also implies that a far more thorough experimental approach to fire in fynbos is required before we can really claim to have a sound grasp of management requirements, particularly in the face of global change.

Dr Simmons is involved in a multitude of related applied research areas, from ecosystem restoration to the use of native species in urban settings to create “green” rooftops. He took advantage of the SAEON sponsored visit to initiate joint proposals for further work on local green-roof technology with researchers from the Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department of the University of Cape Town (UCT).

His program in Texas is established as a major contributor to research of green-roof technology, and is presently assembling a joint effort with two other universities (Illinois and Hawaii) to look at sustainable application of this technology using waste products and regionally native plants. Currently the proposal covers temperate (Illinois), subtropical (Texas) and tropical (Hawaii) climatic zones.  UCT could potentially address the Mediterranean zone, as yet completely unexplored territory for this eco-technology.

Large-scale Renosterveld Management and Restoration pilot project?

As a result of his visit, Dr Simmons is currently making preliminary enquiries with the United States Department of Agriculture to see if there are any mechanisms to help fund a large-scale Renosterveld Management and Restoration pilot project. The Kruger National Park fire project with researchers from Konza Prairie in the USA has set a useful precedent. The proposal will aim for long-term investigation with local collaborators for the effects of season of fire on Renosterveld vegetation, derived from the research design in Texas.

Contact details:

Dr Mark  Simmons PhD 
Landscape Restoration Program 
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 
University of Texas at Austin. 
4801 Lacrosse Avenue 
Austin, Texas. 78739 
Tel:(512) 232 0125



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