Effects of a fast-burning spring fire on the ground-dwelling spider assemblages (Arachnida: Araneae) in a central South African grassland habitat
Fire is widely used as a management strategy in grasslands to maintain vegetation structure and improve grazing quality for large herbivores. The impacts of burning on invertebrates in South Africa remain poorly understood. A study was initiated in spring 2005 to determine the impact of a fast hot burn on ground-dwelling spider assemblages in a grassland habitat in the central Free State. Pitfall traps were set out at six sites in the reserve, with three sites each in the burnt and unburnt areas, to sample spiders over a 12-month period. A total of 5 253 spiders were collected, representing 33 families and 120 species. Spider abundance was significantly lower in the burnt (n = 1 956) than unburnt sites (n = 3 297), and burnt sites had, on average, considerably fewer species than unburnt sites. The dominant families in the burnt sites were Lycosidae (29.5%), Gnaphosidae (16.9%), Ammoxenidae (9.6%) and Zodariidae (5.7%), whereas Ammoxenidae (22.7%), Lycosidae (20.6%), Gnaphosidae (15.3%) and Amaurobiidae (10.2%) dominated the unburnt sites. Of the nine most abundant families collected, only Caponiidae were more abundant in the burnt than unburnt sites. Our data suggest that fast-burning hot spring fires cause a considerable initial post-fire decline in spider abundance, and have a negative influence on the abundance as well as the resistance of assemblages to disturbances other than fire (e.g. rain). However, most of the dominant families had abundances comparable to unburnt areas within a year post-burn.
Keywords: abundance, Free State, management, resistance, season, species richness