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The Amazon is being rapidly transformed by fire. Logging and forest fragmentation sharply elevate fire incidence by increasing forest desiccation and fuel loads, and forests that have experienced a low-intensity surface fire are vulnerable to far more catastrophic fires. Satellites typically detect thermal signatures from 40 000 to 50 000 separate fires in the Amazon each year, and this number could increase as new highways and infrastructure expand across the basin. Many are concerned that large-scale deforestation, by reducing regional evapotranspiration and creating moisture-trapping smoke plumes, will make the basin increasingly vulnerable to fire. The Amazon may also be affected by future global warming and atmospheric changes, although much remains uncertain. Most models suggest the basin will become warmer throughout this century, although there is no consensus about how precipitation will be affected. The most alarming scenarios project a permanent disruption of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, leading to greatly increased drought or destructive synergisms between regional and global climate change in the Amazon.
This paper presents a summary of the forest fire reports in the insular Caribbean derived from both management reports and an analysis of publicly available Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrodiometer (MODIS) satellite active fire products from the region. A vast difference between the amount of fires reported by land managers and fire points in the MODIS Fire Information for Resource Management System data can be observed. Future research is recommended to better understand the nature of these differences. While there is a general lack of available statistical data on forest fires in the Caribbean, a few general observations can be made: Forest fires occur mainly in dry forest types (500 to 1000 mm of mean annual rainfall). These are also the areas where most human settlements are located. Lowland high forests and montane forests with higher rainfall (1000 and more mm y−1) are less susceptible to forest fire, but they can burn in exceptionally dry years. Most of the dry forest ecosystems in the Caribbean can be considered to be fire-sensitive ecosystems, while the pine forests in the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas) are maintained by wildfires. In fire-sensitive ecosystems, uncontrolled burning often encourages the spread of alien invasive species. A Caribbean Fire Management Cooperation Strategy was developed between 2005 and 2006 under auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This regional strategy aims to strengthen Caribbean fire management networking by encouraging closer collaboration among countries with similar ecological conditions. The strategy for the Caribbean identifies a number of research, training, and management activities to improve wildfire management capacity in the Caribbean.
In March and April 2005, severe fires burned over 1000 km2 of tropical montane forests in the Cordillera Central, Dominican Republic. The fire burned through our network of permanent vegetation plots, which were established in 1999 to examine interactions among environment, vegetation, and disturbance. We used QuickBird satellite imagery combined with field surveys to map the extent and severity of the fire across the landscape. The fire burned through 96% of the pine forest but quickly extinguished at the pine–cloud forest boundary along most of the ecotone. Topographic factors and fire severity had no influence on fire behavior at the ecotone. These observations support our original hypothesis that fire maintains the abrupt boundary between the pine and cloud forest vegetation in these mountains. Vegetation structure and composition played a direct role in regulating fire spread and behavior in this landscape.
Fire-dependent pine forests in the Caribbean Basin cover extensive areas in the coastal plain of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico and on several islands in the Bahamas Archipelago, Cuba, Hispaniola, and the Honduran Bay islands. These forests are high in conservation value but, unfortunately, remain mostly unprotected. Moreover, even though they are fire dependent, the use of fire for forest management often suffers from poor public perception and is prohibited by law in several countries. In this paper, we describe the fundamental links among fire, forest regeneration, and forest persistence in these ecosystems. We identify two general strategies based on the presence or absence of pine seedling adaptations for fire survival and describe management implications of these two strategies. We also introduce conceptual models describing fire, forest structure, and regeneration strategy linkages.
I propose several broad fire regimes and provide an analysis of fire ecology for the principal vegetation types in Mexico. Forty percent of Mexican ecosystems are fire-dependent (pine forests, several oak forests, grasslands, several shrublands, savannas, palm lands, wet prairies, “popal” and “tular” swamps), 50% are fire-sensitive (tropical rain forests and tropical seasonal forests, tropical cloud forests, mangrove, fir forests, several oak forests, and several shrublands), and the remaining 10% fall into fire-influenced (such as several gallery forests) and fire-independent categories (shrublands in most xeric environments, very high-altitude prairies). I also present an analysis of current fire-management trends, highlighting the trend toward integral fire management, which merges prevention and control, community-based fire management, and ecological fire management.
Quantification of the downed woody materials that comprise forest fuels has gained importance in Caribbean forest ecosystems due to the increasing incidence and severity of wildfires on island ecosystems. Because large-scale assessments of forest fuels have rarely been conducted for these ecosystems, forest fuels were assessed at 121 US Department of Agriculture forest service inventory plots on Puerto Rico, Vieques, and the US Virgin Islands. Results indicated that fuel loadings averaged 24.05 Mg ha−1 in 2004–2006. Forest litter decreased from wetter to drier forest life zones. These island forests showed a paucity of coarse woody fuels (CWD) (2.91 Mg ha−1) and relatively greater quantities of smaller-sized fine woody fuels (FWD) (10.18 Mg ha−1 for FWD and 10.82 Mg ha−1 for duff/litter) when compared to continental tropical forests. Between 2001 and 2006, CWD fuel loads decreased, while fine fuels and litter increased, such that total fuel loads remained constant on a subset of plots on Puerto Rico. This trend indicates that continued decomposition of CWD deposited by the last severe hurricane is balanced by increasing inputs of FWD from recovering and maturing secondary forests. Forest disturbance cycles and successional development must be taken into account by agencies charged with fire protection and risk assessment.
Methods for evaluating the impact of fires within tropical forests are needed as fires become more frequent and human populations and demands on forests increase. Short- and long-term fire effects on soils are determined by the prefire, fire, and postfire environments. We placed these components within a fire-disturbance continuum to guide our literature synthesis and develop an integrated soil burn severity index. The soil burn severity index provides a set of indicators that reflect the range of conditions present after a fire. The index consists of seven levels, an unburned level and six other levels that describe a range of postfire soil conditions. We view this index as a tool for understanding the effects of fires on the forest floor, with the realization that as new information is gained, the index may be modified as warranted.
An increased ability to analyze landscapes in a spatial manner through the use of remote sensing leads to improved capabilities for quantifying human-induced forest fragmentation. Developments of spatially explicit methods in landscape analyses are emerging. In this paper, the image delineation software program eCognition and the spatial pattern analysis program FRAGSTATS were used to quantify patterns of forest fragments on six landscapes across three different climatic regions characterized by different moisture regimes and different influences of human pressure. Our results support the idea that landscapes with higher road and population density are more fragmented; however, there are other, equally influential factors contributing to fragmentation, such as moisture regime, historic land use, and fire dynamics. Our method provided an objective means to characterize landscapes and assess patterns of forest fragments across different forested ecosystems by addressing the limitations of pixel-based classification and incorporating image objects.
Forest fragmentation affects the heterogeneity of accumulated fuels by increasing the diversity of forest types and by increasing forest edges. This heterogeneity has implications in how we manage fuels, fire, and forests. Understanding the relative importance of fragmentation on woody biomass within a single climatic regime, and along climatic gradients, will improve our ability to manage forest fuels and predict fire behavior. In this study we assessed forest fuel characteristics in stands of differing moisture, i.e., dry and moist forests, structure, i.e., open canopy (typically younger) vs. closed canopy (typically older) stands, and size, i.e., small (10–14 ha), medium (33 to 60 ha), and large (100–240 ha) along a climatic gradient of boreal, temperate, and tropical forests. We measured duff, litter, fine and coarse woody debris, standing dead, and live biomass in a series of plots along a transect from outside the forest edge to the fragment interior. The goal was to determine how forest structure and fuel characteristics varied along this transect and whether this variation differed with temperature, moisture, structure, and fragment size. We found nonlinear relationships of coarse woody debris, fine woody debris, standing dead and live tree biomass with mean annual median temperature. Biomass for these variables was greatest in temperate sites. Forest floor fuels (duff and litter) had a linear relationship with temperature and biomass was greatest in boreal sites. In a five-way multivariate analysis of variance we found that temperature, moisture, and age/structure had significant effects on forest floor fuels, downed woody debris, and live tree biomass. Fragment size had an effect on forest floor fuels and live tree biomass. Distance from forest edge had significant effects for only a few subgroups sampled. With some exceptions edges were not distinguishable from interiors in terms of fuels.
In this study, we set up a wood decomposition experiment to i) quantify the percent of mass remaining, decay constant and performance strength of aspen stakes (Populus tremuloides) in dry and moist boreal (Alaska and Minnesota, USA), temperate (Washington and Idaho, USA), and tropical (Puerto Rico) forest types, and ii) determine the effects of fragmentation on wood decomposition rates as related to fragment size, forest age (and/or structure) and climate at the macro- and meso-scales. Fragment sizes represented the landscape variability within a climatic region. Overall, the mean small fragments area ranged from 10–14 ha, medium-sized fragments 33 to 60 ha, and large fragments 100–240 ha. We found that: i) aspen stakes decayed fastest in the tropical sites, and the slowest in the temperate forest fragments, ii) the percent of mass remaining was significantly greater in dry than in moist forests in boreal and temperate fragments, while the opposite was true for the tropical forest fragments, iii) no effect of fragment size on the percent of mass remaining of aspen stakes in the boreal sites, temperate dry, and tropical moist forests, and iv) no significant differences of aspen wood decay between forest edges and interior forest in boreal, temperate and tropical fragments. We conclude that: i) moisture condition is an important control over wood decomposition over broad climate gradients; and that such relationship can be non linear, and ii) the presence of a particular group of organism (termites) can significantly alter the decay rates of wood more than what might be predicted based on climatic factors alone. Biotic controls on wood decay might be more important predictors of wood decay in tropical regions, while abiotic constraints seems to be important determinants of decay in cold forested fragments.
Secondary forest succession and tree planting are contributing to the recovery of the Cabo Rojo refuge (Headquarters and Salinas tracts) and Laguna Cartagena refuge (Lagoon and Tinaja tracts) of the Fish and Wildlife Service in southwestern Puerto Rico. About 80 species, mainly natives, have been planted on 44 ha during the past 25 y in an effort to reduce the threat of grass fires and to restore wildlife habitat. A 2007 survey of 9-y-old tree plantings on the Lagoon tract showed satisfactory growth rates for 16 native species. Multiple stems from individual trees at ground level were common. A sampling of secondary forest on the entire 109 ha Tinaja tract disclosed 141 native tree species, or 25% of Puerto Rico's native tree flora, along with 20 exotics. Five tree species made up about 58% of the total basal area, and seven species were island endemics. Between 1998 and 2003, tree numbers and basal area, as well as tree heights and diameter at breast height values (diameter at 1.4 m above the ground), increased on the lower 30 ha of the Tinaja tract. In this area, much of it subject to fires and grazing through 1996, exotic trees made up 25% of the species. Dry forest throughout the tropics is an endangered habitat, and its recovery (i.e., in biomass, structure, and species composition) at Tinaja may exceed 500 y. Future forests, however, will likely contain some exotics.
The threat of fire is always a consideration when establishing a forest restoration program. Two wildfires occurred in 2006 and 2007 in an established dry forest restoration project in Puerto Rico. The original goal of the project was to determine differential growth responses of native trees under the nurse tree Leucaena leucocephala versus in open sites. Tree species growth, mortality and response to the fires were evaluated according to their leaf habit, successional status, and prefire tolerance to environmental conditions. Results showed that regardless of a species' leaf habit and successional status, trees attained greater height and lower mortality under nurse trees. In open sites, sprouting was the most common fire response and mature-forest and evergreen species had greater postfire survival than pioneers and deciduous species. Although nurse trees are typically used to help manage nutrient or light environments in reforestation projects, these trees also appear to provide a secondary benefit of limiting fire damage by reducing fuel load.