Category Archives: Publications

Integrating climate change and fire-vegetation dynamics for bird conservation

The stronghold of the Dartford Warbler is located in Spain but the populations there have strong declined during 1998–2011. How will climate change synergically with fire-conducted vegetation dynamics affect the distributional range of Dartford Warbler over the next 50 years? Could fire management policies offset the potential distributional shifts of Dartford Warbler driven by climate change and land abandonment?

Link to the paper:

Regos A, D’Amen M, Herrando S, Guisan A, Brotons L (2015) Fire management, climate change and their interacting effects on birds in complex Mediterranean landscapes: dynamic distribution modelling of an early-successional species — the near-threatened Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata). J Ornithol. doi: 10.1007/s10336-015-1174-9

The Dartford War172_sylundbler was recently evaluated on a global scale as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List, since it is declining at a moderately rapid rate (Birdlife International 2014). Declines in the core populations in Spain are largely responsible for the estimated overall decline of the species (Birdlife International 2004) due to habitat degradation and modification (Van den Berg et al 2001) and climate changes (Bibby 1978).

Mediterranean landscapes are highly dynamic systems (Keeley et al 2012). Climate change is one of the most powerful driving forces of these dynamics and, in the Mediterranean basin, its severity has markedly increased in recent years (IPCC 2007). However, climate change impacts on biodiversity (Clavero et al., 2011; De Cáceres et al., 2013) are often also indirect through changes in disturbance regimes (Turco et al., 2014). Fire is a critical factor in the Mediterranean and is likely to drive landscape change effects over large areas.

In this study, recently published in Journal of Ornithology, we ask the following questions: (1) how will climate change synergically with fire-conducted vegetation dynamics affect the distributional range of Dartford Warbler over the next 50 years?; and (2) can fire management offset distributional shifts caused by climate change and natural succession processes?

Our group, in collaboration with Antoine Guisan’s lab (Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne), ICO (Catalan Institute of Ornithology) and EBCC (European Bird Census Council), have assessed the potential changes in Dartford Warbler distribution ACONbetween 2000 and 2050 under different fire management and climate change scenarios, and described landscape dynamics using a spatially-explicit fire-succession model that simulates fire impacts in the landscape and post-fire regeneration (MEDFIRE model). For this study, Dartford Warbler occurrence data were acquired at two different spatial scales from: (1) the Atlas of European Breeding Birds (EBCC) and (2) the Catalan Breeding Bird Atlas (CBBA). Habitat suitability was modelled using five widely-used modelling techniques in an ensemble forecasting framework (BIOMOD2).

Our study predicts large habitat suitability losses in Catalonia mainly derived from successional losses and land abandonment (ranging between 47 and 57 % in baseline Base + HighFS scenarios, Fig.1), but these losses can be strongly modulated by fire regime shifts conducted by fire management, together with climate change (Fig. 1 and 2).


Fig. 1. Predicted changes (expressed in %) in optimal habitat suitability between 2000 and 2050 under each fire management and climate scenario.

The use of unplanned fires resulting from decreasing suppression efforts are tactics that use fire as a tool to fight larger wildfires, and that aim to increase the effectiveness of fire suppression through fuel reduction (Regos et al 2014). Unplanned fires increase landscape heterogeneity, offsetting the decade-long general trend towards homogenization due to land abandonment and the coalescence of natural vegetation patches (UnFS and UnFS plus scenarios in Fig. 1 and 2). Thus, early-successional species such as Dartford Warbler could be favoured in the future by this fire management policy, especially in those areas strongly affected by land abandonment.


Fig. 2. The potential distribution areas (grey) and optimal habitat suitability (black) in 2050 under future scenarios.

Our results thus highlight the need to take the spatial interaction among climate change, fire-mediated landscape dynamics and fire management policies in highly dynamic and fire- prone ecosystems into account to accurately predict habitat suitability changes of early-succession bird species in a context of land abandonment. Fire management programs must be integrated into conservation plans to effectively preserve sparsely forested and early-succession habitats and their associated species in the face of global change.


Article posted at BOU’s blog – 24th of April (

Bibby CJ (1978) Conservation of the Dartford Warbler on english lowland heaths: A review. Biol Conserv 13:299–307.

Birdlife International (2014) Species factsheet: Sylvia undata. Downloaded from on 07/10/2014.

Birdlife International (2004) Birds in the European Union: a status assessment. Wageningen, The Netherlands: BirdLife International

Clavero M, Brotons L, Herrando S (2011) Bird community specialization, bird conservation and disturbance: the role of wildfires. J Anim Ecol 80:128–36. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01748.x

De Cáceres M, Brotons L, Aquilué N, Fortin M-J (2013) The combined effects of land-use legacies and novel fire regimes on bird distributions in the Mediterranean. J Biogeogr 40:1535–1547. doi: 10.1111/jbi.12111

Keeley J, Bond W, Bradstock R, et al (2012) Fire in mediterranean ecosystems: ecology, evolution and management. 515.

Regos A, Aquilué N, Retana J, et al (2014) Using unplanned fires to help suppressing future large fires in Mediterranean forests. PLoS One 9:e94906. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094906

Regos A, D’Amen M, Herrando S, et al (2015) Fire management, climate change and their interacting effects on birds in complex Mediterranean landscapes: dynamic distribution modelling of an early-successional species — the near-threatened Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata). J Ornithol. doi: 10.1007/s10336-015-1174-9

Turco M, Llasat M-C, von Hardenberg J, Provenzale A (2014) Climate change impacts on wildfires in a Mediterranean environment. Clim Change 125:369–380. doi: 10.1007/s10584-014-1183-3

Van den Berg LJL, Bullock JM, Clarke RT, et al (2001) Territory selection by the Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) in Dorset, England: the role of vegetation type, habitat fragmentation and population size. Biol Conserv 101:217–228. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3207(01)00069-6

Rewilding in the Gerês-Xurés Mountains

Rewilding: a potential alternative approach to conservation in abandoned mountain areas?

Land-use change is a large component of global change and the effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services currently represent a major challenge for ecologists and conservationists. Several authors have recently suggested that REWILDING may be an appealing conservation response to farmland abandonment in arXureseas of Europe where the social structure of farming communities has been eroded and low-intensity farming is no longer socially or economically viable. ECOLAND group, in collaboration with GRUMETS lab (CREAF and Autonomous University of Barcelona) and University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), has assessed the relative positive and negative effects of land abandonment on Gerês–Xurés Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (NW Iberian Peninsula) in order to quantify the potential conservation costs and benefits of a rewilding as a land-use management policy.

In a first study published in International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, we aimed to determine if the abandonment of the rural areas was the main driver of landscape dynamics on this particular mountain area, or if other factors, such as wildfires and the land management were also directly affecting these spatio-temporal dynamics. For this purpose, we used earth observation data acquired from Landsat TM and ETM + satellite sensors, complemented by ancillary data and prior field knowledge, to evaluate the land use/land cover changes in our study region over a 10-year period (2000–2010). Our findings showed that rural exodus of the last century, differences in land management and fire suppression policies between Spain and Portugal and the different protection schemes could partly explain the different patterns of changes recorded in these covers.

In a second study, recently accepted in Regional Environmental Change, we investigated the effects of land abandonment processes on bird assemblages at both landscape and local scale. We combined medium-term data on avifauna distribution with information on temporal changes in land-use/land-cover extracted from satellite data. In light of our results, rewilding appears to have overall positive effects on biodiversity and should be considered by policy makers as alternative land-use strategy in marginal mountain areas, particularly if they have been historically affected by wildfires. Fire management aimed at favouring the creation of small burned areas in progressively closed landscapes derived from rewilding may be a complementary alternative to maintain open habitats in these areas.

Regos, A., Ninyerola, M., Moré, G., Pons, X., 2015. Linking land cover dynamics with driving forces in mountain landscape of the Northwestern Iberian Peninsula. Int. J. Appl. Earth Obs. Geoinf. 38, 1–14.

Regos, A., Domínguez, J., Gil-Tena, A., Brotons, L., Ninyerola, M., Pons, X., 2014. Rural abandoned landscapes and bird assemblages: winners and losers in the rewilding of a marginal mountain area (NW Spain). Reg. Environ. Chang. DOI 10.1007/s10113-014-0740-7


[1]UAB’s blog:

[2]CREAF’s blog:

[3]La Vanguardia:



[6]: GaliciaConfidencial:

Modelling wildlife distribution from remote sensing data

Modelling the distribution of the European wild rabbit in fragmented environments

Here we have investigated the factor affecting the occurrence of European wild rabbit in fragmented environments in a mountainous area of northwestern Spain (Gerês-Xurés Biosphere Reserve). The study has been led by Luis Tapia and conducted in collaboration with Jesús Domínguez and Maria Vidal from University of Santiago de Compostela.

Field survey was carried out by sampling the presence/absence of pellets in 237 plots (100 x 100 m) selected at random below an altitude of 800 m. For modeling purposes, we considered eight predictors related to vegetation, topography, human influence and heterogeneity. All predictors were obtained from Landsat-derived maps by using a Neuronal Artificial Neural Networks algorithm, and a Global Digital Elevation Model (GDEM). Generalized linear model were used to describe the occurrence of the European wild rabbit.

The information on habitat requirements of European wild rabbit in the area provides a good framework for determining the habitat requirements of this keystone species in mountainous ecosystems in northwestern Iberian Peninsula and confirms that digital data-based models can solve many of the problems associated with field data in wildlife modelling.

TAPIA, L; DOMÍNGUEZ, J.; REGOS, A. and VIDAL, M. (2014). Using remote sensing data to model European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) occurrence in a highly fragmented landscape in northwestern Spain. Acta Theriologica, doi: 10.1007/s13364-013-0169-2.

Let it burns !


In a new article published in PLOS ONE, we assessed changes in fire suppression policies and their impact on fire regimes. Modulating fire suppression efforts in mild weather conditions is an appealing but hotly-debated strategy to use unplanned fires and associated fuel reduction to create opportunities for suppression of large fires in future adverse weather conditions. Using a spatially-Fig.1explicit fire–succession model developed for Catalonia (Spain), we assessed this opportunistic policy by using two fire suppression strategies that reproduce how firefighters in extreme weather conditions exploit previous fire scars as firefighting opportunities.

Regos A, Aquilué N, Retana J, De Cáceres M, Brotons L (2014) Using Unplanned Fires to Help Suppressing Future Large Fires in Mediterranean Forests. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94906. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094906


[1]La Razón:

[2]CREAF’s Blog: