Fire regimes and variability in aboveground woody biomass in miombo woodland

Makoto Saito*, Sebastiaan Luyssaert, Ben Poulter, Mathew Williams, Philippe Ciais, Valentin Bellassen, Casey M. Ryan, Chao Yue, Patricia Cadule, Philippe Peylin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    This study combined a process-based ecosystem model with a fire regime model to understand the effect of changes in fire regime and climate pattern on woody plants of miombo woodland in African savanna. Miombo woodland covers wide areas in Africa and is subject to frequent anthropogenic fires. The model was developed based on observations of tree topkill rates in individual tree size classes for fire intensity and resprouting. Using current and near-future climate patterns, the model simulated the dynamics of miombo woodland for various fire return intervals and grass cover fractions, allowing fire intensity to be estimated. There was a significant relationship between aboveground woody biomass and long-term fire regimes. An abrupt increase in fire intensity and/or fire frequency applied as a model forcing led to reduced long-term average aboveground woody biomass and mean tree size. Fire intensity increased with increasing living grass biomass (which provides increased flammable fuel), thereby affecting the relationship between fire regime and tree size, creating a demographic bottleneck on the route to tree maturity. For the current fire regime in miombo woodland, with a fire return interval of about 1.6-3 years, the model-predicted fire intensity lower than 930-1700 kW m-1 is necessary to maintain today's aboveground woody biomass under current climate conditions. Future climate change was predicted to have a significant positive effect on woody plants in miombo woodland associated with elevated CO 2 concentration and warming, allowing woody plants to survive more effectively against periodic fires. Key Points Aboveground biomass is controlled by fire regimes Current fire management results in degradation of miombo woodland Future climate change has a positive effect on biomass of miombo woodland

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1014-1029
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Geophysical Research. Biogeosciences
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • biomass
    • fire regime
    • resprouting
    • savanna
    • self-thinning
    • topkill


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