Influence of peatland and land cover distribution on fire regimes in insular Southeast Asia
Anthropogenic biomass burning in insular Southeast Asia facilitates conversion and degradation of ecosystems and emits high amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We analyzed the influence of peat soil and land cover distribution on the occurrence and characteristics of vegetation fires. Two years of satellite-based active fire detections over Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo and Java were examined together with land cover and peatland maps. Our results showed that fire occurrence nearly tripled (23,000 → 68,000) from a wet La Niña year (2008) to a drier El Niño year (2009). In both years, fires were concentrated in peatlands (in 2009 41% of fires vs. 10% of land area), and the majority of large-scale burning took place in peatlands. Variation in peatland land cover within the study area was noticed to create remarkable different fire regimes. Biomass burning in the intensely managed Sumatran peatlands was characterized by large-scale land clearance fires that took place annually to varying extent. The largely unmanaged degraded peatland ecosystems of Borneo, on the other hand, experienced very little fire activity in a wet year but were ravaged by large-scale wildfires when El Niño conditions arose. We conclude that fire regime characteristics in insular Southeast Asia are strongly connected to occurrence of peat soil and land management status. This leads to high variation of fire activity within this region both annually (depending on weather patters) and over longer time range (depending on land cover/management issues) and greatly complicates estimation of the effects of fires.