Evaluation of fire severity in fire prone-ecosystems of Spain under two different environmental conditions

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Paula García-Llamas, Susana Suarez-Seoane, Alfonso Fernandez-Manso, Carmen Quintano, Leonor Calvo (2020) - Evaluation of fire severity in fire prone-ecosystems of Spain under two different environmental conditions - Journal of Environmental Management


 Severe fires associated to climate change and land cover changes are becoming more frequent in Mediterranean Europe. The influence of environmental drivers on fire severity, especially under different environmental conditions is still not fully understood. In this study we aim to determine the main environmental variables that control fire severity in large fires (>500 ha) occurring in fire-prone ecosystems under two different environmental conditions following a transition (Mediterranean-Oceanic)-Mediterranean climatic gradient within the Iberian Peninsula, and to provide management recommendations to mitigate fire damage. We estimated fire severity as the differenced Normalized Burn Ratio, through images obtained from Landsat 8 OLI. We also examined the relative influence of pre-fire vegetation structure (vegetation composition and configuration), pre-fire weather conditions, fire history and topography on fire severity using Random Forest machine learning algorithms. The results indicated that the severity of fires occurring along the transition (Mediterranean- Oceanic)-Mediterranean climatic gradient was primarily controlled by pre-fire vegetation composition. Nevertheless, the effect of vegetation composition was strongly dependent on interactions with fire recurrence and pre-fire vegetation structural configuration. The relationship between fire severity, weather and topographic predictors was not consistent among fires occurring in the Mediterranean-Oceanic transition and Mediterranean sites. In the Mediterranean-Oceanic transition site, fire severity was determined by weather conditions (i.e., summer cumulative rainfall), rather than being associated to topography, suggesting that the control exerted by topography may be overwhelmed by weather controls. Conversely, results showed that topography only had a major effect on fire severity in the Mediterranean site. The results of this study highlight the need to prioritise fuel treatments aiming at breaking fuel continuity and reducing fuel loads as an effective management strategy to mitigate fire damage in areas of high fire recurrence.

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