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Wildfire–vegetation dynamics affect predictions of climate change impact on bird communities

Firevegetation dynamics (and not only climate) drive the variability of climate change indicators. Wildfire management and land use policies have the potential to offset or exacerbate the effects of climate change on biological communities, offering an excellent opportunity to address global change proactively.

Our recent study, recently published in Ecography, suggests that climate change indicators are strongly dependent on the interactive effects of climate change and wildfire–vegetation dynamics. The feasibility of using climate change indicators (in our case, the Community Thermal Index) to measure the likely effects of climate change hinges on our ability to accurately predict changes in community composition, that might be strongly affected (nulled or exacerbated) by drivers other than climate.

According to our fire and landscape simulations, the concomitance of land abandonment and climate warming is expected to herald larger wildfires, of higher intensity, thus jeopardising our ability to curb the increasing impact of wildfire on ecosystems. This should incite a gradual rethink of the current wildfire suppression paradigm based on the systematic suppression of all wildfires, and prompt alternative wildfire management policies aimed at reducing the impact of large forest fires [see e.g. forest biomass extraction for bioenergy].

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Fig. 1. Bird species assemblage were predicted using the spatially-explicit species assemblage modelling framework – SESAM – that applies successive filters to constrained predictions of richness and composition obtained by stacking species distribution models that hierarchically integrate climate change and wildfire–vegetation dynamics. Community Thermal Index (CTI) reports the average breeding-season temperature for all species present in a local community.

Previous research has shown that landscape-level wildfire management policies that allow small and low-intensity fires to burn under controlled, mild fire-weather conditions will likely decrease the impact of large forest fires under adverse climate conditions [see Let it burns !]. These policies have also proved to be effective tools for creating new habitats for early-successional species [e.g. on Dartford Warbler], without strong side effects on forest species, as the land abandonment processes in Southern Europe have largely counterbalanced the negative effect of wildfires in the past few decades. However, given the increasing severity of wildfire regimes, high-efficiency wildfire suppression policies (as typically implemented to date) were predicted to be more effective in mitigating climate change impact on our bird community than policies based on ‘let-burn’ strategies.

Wildfire management as opportunity to cope with climate change impacts on biological communities

This study thus showed how changes in habitat characteristics driven by wildfire–vegetation dynamics could have an important effect on the response of bird communities to climate change (Figs. 2 and 3). More importantly, our findings highlight how counteracting patterns (e.g. antagonistic effects of climate warming and land abandonment) or lagged community responses to climate warming might be enhanced by interacting and self-reinforcing processes between climate and land-cover changes, e.g. by synergistic/additive responses of the bird communities to climate warming and recurrent wildfire regimes. Our findings therefore suggest that it is crucial to consider fire–vegetation dynamics when forecasting the impact of climate change through community-based climate change indicators, especially in highly dynamic ecosystems, such as those of fire-prone areas.

 

Boxplots

Fig. 2. Boxplots representing change in community thermal index (ΔCTI) between 2000 and 2050 under each global change scenario and for each simulation, averaged for the whole study area and for areas below and above 1000 metres a.s.l.

 

In particular, we predicted that the combined effect of climate change and fire–vegetation dynamics can result in an overall increase in climate change indicators, despite the lags in responses to climate warming predicted for large parts of our study region as caused by land abandonment processes (Figs. 2 and 3). Identifying optimal wildfire management strategies is essential to enhance the resilience of biological communities to climate change without high conservation costs for open-habitat, warm-dwelling species.

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Fig. 3. Predictive maps showing change in the community thermal index (ΔCTI) between 2000 and 2050 under two global change scenarios: (i) business-as-usual, characterized by high levels of wildfire suppression (‘Stop all fires’), and (ii) ‘let-burn’ strategies (‘let-burn’ plus), where larger burnt areas are expected, using Climate and habitat suitability models (‘Combined’), or only habitat models (‘Habitat’).

This is especially relevant in fire-prone areas, where the direction of the net change in climate change indicator is predicted to depend on wildfire management policy implemented in the near future. In these fire-prone systems, wildfire management and land use policies have the potential to offset or exacerbate the effects of climate change on biological communities, offering an excellent opportunity to address global change proactively.

 

Regos A, Clavero M., D’Amen M, Guisan A, Brotons L. (2017). Wildfire–vegetation dynamics affect predictions of climate change impact on bird communities. Ecography.  doi/10.1111/ecog.02990.0.

 

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Forest biomass extraction for energy uses: an opportunity to reduce the impact of large forest fires in Mediterranean ecosystems?

 

The integration of forest management with renewable energy uses may help land managers in optimizing firefighting programs, a new study lead by the InForest Reseach Unit (CEMFOR-CTFC) shows. This strategy will be especially relevant in Mediterranean countries given the increasing intensity of forest fires caused by climate change and land abandonment.

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In this study, published in Ecosystems journal, we suggest that biomass extraction has the potential to substantially contribute to reshape fire regime towards a more desirable scenario by decreasing the number of large fires and, in turn, the amount of burned area. The study encourages land managers to consider this type of extraction as a cost-effective strategy to reduce forest fuel.

The study is based on the MEDFIRE model (https://sites.google.com/site/medfireproject/medfire/overview) that reproduces the interactions between fire, vegetation dynamics and biomass extraction in a Mediterranean landscape. To our knowledge it is the first quantitative assessment of this practice at medium-term (horizon 2050). According to our results, biomass extraction can be an effective strategy for fire prevention “however, its effectiveness will be strongly determined by the spatial allocation of the extraction and how firefighters might use the opportunities created by biomass extraction as fire-suppression strategy and, to a lesser extent, by the intensity of extraction”.

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Fig. 1. Map showing the change on fire risk under a scenario characterized by large-scale forest biomass extraccion policies in relation to a reference scenario without forest biomass extraction nor fire suppression (from red colors indicating high increase to blue colors showing a high decrease on fire risk).

In this sense, the work suggests that “burned area could potentially be reduced, especially if biomass extraction is strategically allocated in high fire-risk areas, and depending on the amount of managed area, could eventually account for up to 60% reduction“. Also, it concludes that all this information “would serve as a cornerstone for the optimization of this fuel-reduction strategy and its successful implementation in future firefighting programs forced to deal with global change.

An opportunity to reinforce the convergence of forests, economy and green energy

The study also highlights the potential synergies of this strategy with socio-economic and energy policies, strengthening the link between forestry and energy sector. The growing use of bioenergy could favour the lack of forest management in many parts of the country, especially if it is linked with a proximity consumer policy. This management should therefore be encouraged by both public and private sector, through e.g. policies related to European funds for rural and regional development (FEDER and FEADER programs).

Among the abovementioned considerations, this study also highlights “the positive effect of this activity on a possible reduction of fire suppression costs”. For this reason, it is necessary to combine biomass harvesting practices with other underbrush fuel-reduction treatments, whether mechanical or by prescribed burning (i.e. planned fires intentionally applied to remove underbrush).

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All these issues will be discussed with experts on forest biomass harvesting (Pere Navarro from Forest Production Timber and Bioenergy, Forest Science Center of Catalonia) and firefighting (Marc Castellnou, Head Office of Fire Prevention and Suppression and Rescue Services of Catalonia) in the conference organized on June 2 at the Forest Science Center of Catalonia (more details: http://www.clusterbiomassa.cat/2016/05/17/2-de-juny-jornada-lextraccio-de-biomassa-per-a-usos-energetics-com-estrategia-de-prevencio-dincendis-2/).

More information:

Post partially modified from:http://blog.ctfc.cat/language/en/forest-biomass-extraction-for-energy-uses-an-opportunity-to-reduce-the-impact-of-large-forest-fires-in-mediterranean-ecosystems/

Article avaliable here: Regos,A;  Aquilué, N; López, I.; Codina, M,  Retana, J; Brotons, L. (2016) Synergies Between Forest Biomass Extraction for Bioenergy and Fire Suppression in Mediterranean Ecosystems: Insights from a Storyline-and-Simulation Approach. EcosystemsDOI: 10.1007/s10021-016-9968-z

Dissemination:

[1] http://blog.creaf.cat/es/noticias/la-extraccion-de-biomasa-puede-reducir-los-incendios-forestales/

[2] http://www.galiciaconfidencial.com/noticia/28825-extraccion-biomasa-forestal-uso-enerxetico-pode-axudar-reducir-incendios
[3] http://www.sostenible.cat/noticia/extreure-biomassa-per-a-usos-energetics-reduiria-els-incendis-fins-en-un-60

[4] http://www.regio7.cat/solsones/2016/04/08/lextraccio-biomassa-pot-reduir-60/356095.html

[5] http://www.ecoticias.com/energias-renovables/113881/Extraer-biomasa-energeticos-evita-incendios-forestales

[6] http://www.retema.es/noticia/extraer-biomasa-para-usos-energeticos-una-estrategia-eficaz-de-prevencion-de-incendio-Bjn8H

[7] http://www.energias-renovables.com/articulo/la-biomasa-para-energia-podria-reducir-en-20160407

[8] http://www.agenciasinc.es/Noticias/Extraer-biomasa-para-prevenir-incendios-forestales

[9] http://blog.ctfc.cat/language/es/extraer-biomasa-para-usos-energeticos-puede-beneficiar-a-las-estrategias-de-prevencion-de-incendios/

[10] http://www.iciforestal.com.uy/el-mundo/8911-extraer-biomasa-para-prevenir-incendios-forestales

[11] http://www.economiadigital.es/gles/notices/2016/04/un-estudio-destaca-la-extraccion-de-biomasa-como-estrategia-eficaz-en-la-prevencion-de-incendios-73376.php

[12] Radio: http://www.ccma.cat/catradio/alacarta/informatius-catalunya-radio/lefecte-papallona-sou-una-vila-florida/audio/922161/

[13] Conference: http://cpf.gencat.cat/es/detalls/Noticia/solsona_incendis-00001

 

 

 

Global change and the future of Nature 2000

Predicting the future effectiveness of protected areas for bird conservation in Mediterranean ecosystems under climate change and novel fire regime scenarios

Global change challenges traditional conservation approaches based on the selection of static protected areas due to their limited ability to deal with the dynamic nature of driving forces relevant to biodiversity. The Natura 2000 network (N2000) constitutes a major milestone in biodiversity conservation in Europe, but the degree to which this static network will be able to reach its long-term conservation objectives raises concern. In this work, recently published in Diversity and Distribution, we have Fig1evaluated, 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),  the future changes in the effectiveness of N2000 in a Mediterranean ecosystem between 2000 and 2050 under different combinations of climate and fire-induced land cover change scenarios.

To our knowledge, the present study is one of the most ambitious attempts so far to forecast biodiversity changes (i.e. multispecies responses) based on simulations of future vegetation dynamics and fire disturbance under climate change in a fire-prone Mediterranean region. Our findings show that although the future response of the species to these changes is species specific, large decreases in the amount of optimal habitats are expected for most of the species. In addition, our results also indicate that such a decrease in habitat suitability will be driven by both climate and land cover changes. Interestingly, the response of a high number of species to these changes is predicted to vary substantially depending on the fire management practices that will be implemented in the future.

Our results also provide the first assessment of the future effectiveness of the currently established protected areas for the conservation of bird species targeted by N2000 under different combinations of climate and novel fire regime scenarios. This study offers novel insights into how fire management policies in interaction with land abandonment and climate change might strongly impact on future biodiversity conservation in fire-prone Mediterranean ecosystems. Based on a hierarchical modelling approach integrating climate and land cover change scenarios at different scales, we draw attention to the key role that the current N2000 network might play in the near future. We also emphasize the need for an integrative and proactive conservation perspective wherein agricultural, forest and fire management policies should be considered inside and outside N2000 to effectively maintain key habitats for threatened birds in these types of ecosystems. In the light of our results, we underline the need for an explicit consideration of landscape dynamics when forecasting the future effectiveness of a network of protected areas in a context of global change.

Reference:

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Regos, A., D’Amen, M., Titeux, N., Herrando, S., Guisan, A., Brotons, L., 2015. Predicting the future effectiveness of protected areas for bird conservation in Mediterranean ecosystems under climate change and novel fire regime scenarios. Divers. Distrib. n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/ddi.12375

Linking land cover dynamics with driving forces using Earth Observation data

Linking land cover dynamics with driving forces in mountain landscape of the Northwestern Iberian Peninsula

In a new study published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, in collaboration with members of GRUMETS lab (CREAF and Autonomous Univ. of Barcelona), we have 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 Gerês–Xurés Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (NW Iberiaiconon Peninsula) over a 10-year period (2000–2010). To describe the land cover changes we addressed the analysis from a multilevel approach in three areas with different regimes of environmental protection. The possible impact of wildfires was assessed from statistical and spatially explicit fire data. Our findings suggest that land abandonment and forestry activities are the main factors causing the changes in landscape patterns. Specifically, we found a strong decrease of the ‘meadows and crops’ and ‘sparse vegetation areas’ in favor of woodlands and scrublands. In addition, the huge impact of wildfires on the Portuguese side have generated new ‘rocky areas’, while on the Spanish side its impact does not seem to have been a decisive factor on the landscape dynamics in recent years. We conclude rural exodus of the last century, differences in land management and fire suppression policies between the two countries and the different protection schemes could partly explain the different patterns of changes recorded in these covers.

Our study complements those works previously carried out in other marginal areas of Iberian Peninsula providing new insights into the driving forces determining land cover dynamics, as well as contributes to add value to Landsat data-based analysis into land dynamics science.

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.