Roads increase woody cover under varying geological, rainfall and fire regimes in African savanna

I. P.J. Smit, G. P. Asner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Roads extend throughout savannas, yet few studies have quantified their effects on adjoining woody vegetation structure. Airborne LiDAR imagery collected over 168 experimental fire plots in the Kruger National Park, all bounded by graded firebreak roads, provided an opportunity to study if, and to what extent, roads influence woody vegetation structure under different rainfall, geologic and fire conditions. In 91.7% of the plots, woody canopy cover was higher on the edges of roads compared to areas farther away. The increase was most pronounced within 5 m of the road edge, but was detectable 10-15 m from the edge. On average, the area within 15 m from the road had approximately 6% and 2% higher woody vegetation cover than areas further than 15 m from the edge on wetter granitic and drier basaltic savanna landscapes, respectively. Increased edge effects on woody cover were observed even in fire exclusion plots, suggesting that non-fire processes, likely altered hydrological regimes, may be the underlying reason for woody encroachment. This study illustrates that roads cause selective woody plant thickening in savannas, even in areas without road edge management, and therefore careful consideration should be paid on how road edges are managed and when roads are planned.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-80
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Bush thickening
  • Hydrology
  • Kruger National Park
  • LiDAR
  • Road edges
  • Woody encroachment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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