Fire Ecology in Kenya’s savannas


In Kenya I have an ongoing project aimed at understanding the role that prescribed fire plays in creating habitats useful to a suite of larger grazers.  I am particularly interested in allometric patterns of resource use, using physiological models to predict when/how grazers use burn sites.

The high herbivore diversity in savanna systems has been attributed to the inherent spatial and temporal heterogeneity related to the quantity and quality of food resources. Allometric scaling predicts that smaller-bodied grazers rely on higher quality forage than larger-bodied grazers. In 2004 and 2005 colleagues and I initiated the Scale and Fire Ecology Project (S.A.F.E.), a landscape level study, which replicated burns at varying scales in the savannas of Laikipia, Kenya.   We burned 18 plots varying in size from 1 ha burns to 81 ha burns at two scales, patchy and continuous (Figure 1 from Sensenig et al. 2010).

I measured visitation by an entire guild of larger grazers ranging in size from hare to elephant and found a strong negative relationship between burn preference and body mass (Figure 2 from Sensenig et al. 2010).  Burns with higher quality forage were preferred more than burns with lower quality forage by small-bodied grazers, while the opposite was true for large-bodied grazers. Our results represent some of the first experimental evidence demonstrating the importance of body size in predicting how large herbivores respond to fire-induced changes in plant quality and quantity.

My current work is trying to address how elephants and fire together affect tree densities.  In the summer of 2011, four Goshen College students spent 6 weeks with me in Kenya helping to resurvey the burn sites after 6-7 years since they were first burned.  We measured more than 13,000 Acacia drepanolobium trees to better understand how fire & browsing affects tree growth dynamics through time.  Read the 2011 Kenya Fire Ecology Blog.

Student researchers:

Summer 2013

Leah Amstutz

Ali Fretz

Will Kanagy

Ellie Schertz

Mandy Schlabach

Josh Yoder

Summer 2011

Laura Schlabach

David Stoesz

Tori Yoder

Luke Zehr


David Stoesz