Indexed on: 23 Aug '18Published on: 23 Aug '18Published in: PloS one
In recent decades large fires have affected communities throughout central and southern Chile with great social and ecological consequences. Despite this high fire activity, the controls and drivers and the spatiotemporal pattern of fires are not well understood. To identify the large-scale trends and drivers of recent fire activity across six regions in south-central Chile (~32-40° S Latitude) we evaluated MODIS satellite-derived fire detections and compared this data with Chilean Forest Service records for the period 2001-2017. MODIS burned area estimates provide a spatially and temporally comprehensive record of fire activity across an important bioclimatic transition zone between dry Mediterranean shrublands/sclerophyllous forests and wetter deciduous-broadleaf evergreen forests. Results suggest fire activity was highly variable in any given year, with no statistically significant trend in the number of fires or mean annual area burned. Evaluation of the variables associated with spatiotemporal patterns of fire for the 2001-2017 period indicate vegetation type, biophysical conditions (e.g., elevation, slope), mean annual and seasonal climatic conditions (e.g., precipitation) and mean population density have the greatest influence on the probability of fire occurrence and burned area for any given year. Both the number of fires and annual area burned were greatest in warmer, biomass-rich lowland Bío-Bío and Araucanía regions. Resource selection analyses indicate fire 'preferentially' occurs in exotic plantation forests, mixed native-exotic forests, native sclerophyll forests, pasture lands and matorral, vegetation types that all provide abundant, flammable and connected biomass for burning. Structurally and compositionally homogenous exotic plantation forests may promote fire spread greater than native deciduous-Nothofagaceae forests which were once widespread in the southern parts of the study area. In the future, the coincidence of warmer and drier conditions in landscapes dominated by flammable and fuel-rich forest plantations and mixed native-exotic and sclerophyll forests are likely to further promote large fires in south-central Chile.