Fuelwood extraction intensity drives compensatory regrowth in African savanna communal lands

Penelope J. Mograbi, Ed T.F. Witkowski, Barend F.N. Erasmus, Gregory P. Asner, Jolene T. Fisher, Renaud Mathieu, Konrad J. Wessels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Woody biomass remains the primary energy source for domestic use in the developing world, raising concerns about woodland sustainability. Yet woodland regenerative capacity and the adaptive response of harvesters to localised fuelwood shortages are often underestimated or unaccounted for in fuelwood supply–demand models. Here, we explore the rates and patterns of height-specific woody vegetation structural dynamics in three communal lands in a semiarid savanna in South Africa. Using repeat, airborne light detection and ranging, we measured height-specific change in woody vegetation structure, and the relative influence of geology, fire, and ease of access to fuelwood. Monitoring 634,284 trees canopies over 4 years revealed high compensatory growth, particularly in the high wood extraction communal land: 34.1% of trees increased in height >1 m. Vegetation structural patterns were associated with ease of access to the communal land but were mediated by wood extraction intensity. In these communal lands, vegetation structural dynamics show rapid woody thickening as a response to repeat harvesting. However, loss of height in vegetation structure did not follow a gradient of wood extraction intensity. We propose a conceptual framework to better understand change in vegetation structural metrics and the paradoxical phenomenon of high growth in high wood extraction scenarios. We also show coadaptive responses of humans and woody vegetation to fuelwood harvesting in human–environment systems through patterns of regrowth response relative to ease of access to fuelwood resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-201
Number of pages12
JournalLand Degradation and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 30 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Bushbuckridge
  • LiDAR
  • coppice
  • fuelwood harvesting
  • subcanopy structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Development
  • General Environmental Science
  • Soil Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Fuelwood extraction intensity drives compensatory regrowth in African savanna communal lands'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this