, Volume 110, Issue 1-2, pp 215-226
Date: 30 Mar 2011

Fire regime changes in the Western Mediterranean Basin: from fuel-limited to drought-driven fire regime

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Abstract

Wildfires are an integral part of Mediterranean ecosystems; humans impact on landscapes imply changes in fuel amount and continuity, and thus in fire regime. We tested the hypothesis that fire regime changed in western Mediterranean Basin during the last century using time series techniques. We first compiled a 130-year fire history for the Valencia province (Spain, Eastern Iberian Peninsula, Western Mediterranean Basin) from contemporary statistics plus old forest administration dossiers and newspapers. We also compiled census on rural population and climatic data for the same period in order to evaluate the role of climate and human-driven fuel changes on the fire regime change. The result suggested that there was a major fire regime shift around the early 1970s in such a way that fires increased in annual frequency (doubled) and area burned (by about an order of magnitude). The main driver of this shift was the increase in fuel amount and continuity due to rural depopulation (vegetation and fuel build-up after farm abandonment) suggesting that fires were fuel-limited during the pre-1970s period. Climatic conditions were poorly related to pre-1970s fires and strongly related to post-1970s fires, suggesting that fire are currently less fuel limited and more drought-driven than before the 1970s. Thus, the fire regime shift implies also a shift in the main driver for fire activity, and this has consequences in the global change agenda.