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The role of fire in the terrestrial biosphere and identification of major drivers of biomass burning during the Holocene

Fire is a global phenomenon, intrinsic to most terrestrial ecosystems, interacting with climate, vegetation distribution, biodiversity, land surface properties, atmosphere chemistry, the carbon cycle and human activities in a complex and yet unresolved pattern. For this reason, a better understanding of past relationship between the multiple factors influencing fire patterns is required.

In the past few years, our research project was focused on the reconstruction of spatial and temporal patterns of European fire activity during the Holocene in order to explore their potential drivers, by relating biomass burning based on sedimentary charcoal data to simulated climate, vegetation and anthropogenic land-cover changes. While the general patterns found across Europe suggest the primary role of vegetation, precipitation and temperature-related parameters in explaining fire dynamics during the early Holocene, the increase in fire activity observed in the mid–late Holocene is mainly related to anthropogenic land-cover changes, followed by vegetation and temperature-related parameters. The 20thcentury decline in European biomass burning seems to be due to increased landscape fragmentation and active fire suppression policies.

Currently, we are studying temporal patterns of boreal forests fire dynamics in Europe and North America based on sedimentary charcoal records in order to shed more light on different drivers (climate changes, variations in vegetation composition and land use) of fire regime during the last 11 000 years. The decision to concentrate the attention on the boreal biome was mainly due to the fact that fire is and has been one of the most important disturbances in these regions and because the boreal forests are most likely to be significantly affected by future global warming, with a variation in fire regime.

The next step will be to combine palaeo-data and models for providing a complete spatial coverage of past fire activity. Future studies should also consider the transformation of palaeo-proxies based on sedimentary charcoal data (now limited to quantitative trends) and model output variables to improve the comparability between observations and simulations.





LUCCI - Lund University Centre for studies of Carbon Cycle and Climate Interactions

Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science

Lund University

Sölvegatan 12

S-223 62 Lund, Sweden