Mediterranean fire regime effects on pine-oak forest landscape mosaics under global change in NE Spain

Research paper by Assu Gil-Tena, Núria Aquilué, Andrea Duane, Miquel De Cáceres, Lluís Brotons

Indexed on: 16 Feb '16Published on: 16 Feb '16Published in: European Journal of Forest Research


Afforestation after land abandonment and the occurrence of large fires have significantly altered the composition of pine-oak ecosystems in the Mediterranean since 1950s, the latter favouring the prevalence of oak forests and shrublands to that of pine forests. Nevertheless, our ability to integrate the processes driving these changes in modelling tools and to project them under future global change scenarios is scarce. This study aims at investigating how Mediterranean forest landscape composition and seral stages may be affected by mid-term changes in fire regime and climate. Taking Catalonia (NE Spain) as study area, we predicted yearly changes in forest landscape composition using the MEDFIRE model which allows assessing the effects of different fire regimes on landscape dynamics such as post-fire regeneration and afforestation. We considered three climatic treatments based on observed and projected climate, two fire regimes largely differing in the amount of area burnt and the number of large fires, and two fire suppression strategies. While projected afforestation continued to increase forest cover in the 2050 horizon, a climate-related harsher fire regime (higher amounts of area burnt) accelerated a shift towards landscapes progressively dominated by oaks and shrublands, thus precluding general forest maturation. Fire-sensitive pine species contributed to net forest cover loss in the worst scenarios. An active fire suppression strategy partially compensated the effects of a climate-related harsher fire regime on pine forest loss and rejuvenation, whereas variability in climate projections weakly affected spatial fire allocation and afforestation. Our results highlight the need to explicitly incorporate fire suppression strategies in forest landscape composition forecasts in the Mediterranean. At mid-term, large-scale afforestation, post-fire forest rejuvenation and landscape composition changes may alter forest ecosystem functioning and potentially interact with fire suppression planning.