fire in the tropics october 21 2010 n.
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Fire in the Tropics October 21, 2010. Fire in the tropics: natural or human tool?. Natural disturbance in some tropical and subtropical ecosystems, but… Currently fire is largely a “ land treatment tool ” in the tropics:

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fire in the tropics natural or human tool
Fire in the tropics: natural or human tool?
  • Natural disturbance in some tropical and subtropical ecosystems, but…
  • Currently fire is largely a “land treatment tool” in the tropics:
    • Forest clearing for land use change (conversion to agricultural land, pastures, urban expansion, road construction, etc.).
    • Maintenance of grazing lands
    • Utilization of seasonal forests and savannas
tropical ecosystems are diverse
Tropical Ecosystems are Diverse…
  • Lowland tropical rain forest
  • Montane coniferous, broadleaved and mixed forest
  • Dry shrublands/woodlands
  • Pine forest, dry deciduous forests
  • Savannas / Grasslands

How do fire regimes in these ecosystems compare with temperate ecosystems that we have studied this semester?

how do historical fire regimes in the tropics compare with those of temperate regions
How do historical fire regimes in the tropics compare with those of temperate regions?
  • Lowland tropical rain forest
    • Temperate rainforest, eastern deciduous
  • Tropical montane coniferous and T. broadleaved forests
    • Subalpine
  • Tropical dry shrublands/woodlands
    • Chaparral
  • Tropical pine forest, Tropical dry deciduous forests
    • SW ponderosa, SE pine-oak scrub (& degraded states)
  • Tropical savannas / grasslands
    • Prairie, savanna complex (& degraded states)
three types of fires in the tropics
Three types of fires in the tropics
  • Deforestation fires (slash-burn)
  • Maintenance fires (grasses and early secondary growth)
  • Accidental forest fires (escaped from farm lands)

African Savannas



tropical pine oak and pine oak forests
Tropical pine, oak, and pine-oak forests
  • Fire regime
    • frequent, moderate intensity (“fire climax”)
    • Adaptations to fire: thick bark, resprouting, serotiny
    • Human modification of fire regiome

Carribbean Pine in Honduras


Slash and burn agriculture

Conversion to pastureEscaped fires!


Effects of El Nino Fire on Biomass:

Mexican Tropical Cloud Forests

the amazon rainforests
The Amazon Rainforests
  • Historical fire regime
    • Fires = rare
    • Only during mega droughts – time scale of 1000’s of years
  • Major causes of fire
    • 1970s: forest colonization, agriculture, logging, urban development
    • Expanding road network
    • Increasing populations
    • Habitat fragmentation
  • How does habitat fragmentation and logging affect fire dynamics?
  • Explain how positive feedbacks can occur to increase fire frequency and severity in Amazon rainforests.
effect of forest fragmentation logging on fire dynamics
Effect of forest fragmentation & logging on fire dynamics
  • Changes microclimate:
    • increased desiccation, wind turbulence
  • Increased tree mortality & canopy-gap formation
  • Increased dead wood and leaf litter (edges)
  • High fire ignitions – pastures, crops
  • Selective logging
    • canopy damage, slash
    • Roads – forest colonization, hunting, land speculation
    • Increased vulnerability to fire, intensity, spread
positive feedbacks in fire dynamics
Positive Feedbacks in Fire dynamics
  • Initial burn = surface fire
    • Low intensity surface fire
    • High duration: kills ~40% trees (small dbh, thin bark!)
    • Canopy cover reduced 65%, increased fuel loads
  • Recurring fire
    • Greater intensity
    • Kills ~40% of remaining trees (also large trees!)
    • Canopy cover reduced <35% = drying
    • Encroachment of weedy vines, grasses = flammable!
  • Alters forest composition and structure
    • Seedlings and seed killed (lack of adaptations to fire!)
    • Promotes establishment of pioneer species
    • Positive feedback on fire cycle
fire and climate change in the amazon rainforest
Fire and Climate Change in the Amazon Rainforest
  • Loss of forest cover – alters local/regional climate
    • Vegetation breeze  forest dessication
  • Forests  pasture/savanna reduces ET
    • Decrease rainfall and cloud cover
    • Increase albedo and surface temps
    • Probably the regional hydrologic system collapse = less rain
  • Smoke plumes
    • Hypersaturates atmosphere with cloud condensation nucliei
    • Bind with water molecules, not big enough to form raindrops
    • Absorb solar radiation = warming, less cloud formation
    • Large fires can create rain shadows (100’s kms downwind)
  • Global warming and increase in El Nino frequency
    • Increase fire frequency
    • Large-scale dieback of forests  shrublands, or even deserts?
ttygroup again
TTYGroup again!

Explain how Amazon fire dynamics and climate change are related to each other on:

- local scales, and

- regional scales

  • Because recycling of ET is responsible for 25-50% of Amazonian precipitation, regional rainfall is likely to decline in concert with increasing deforestation.
  • Unless fundamental changes occur in the way human-dominated landscapes are managed, increasing expanses of Amazonian forests will be subjected to fire regimes for which they are not evolutionarily equipped to survive.