People, El Niño southern oscillation and fire in Australia: Fire regimes and climate controls in hummock grasslands

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While evidence mounts that indigenous burning has a significant role in shaping pyrodiversity, the processes explaining its variation across local and external biophysical systems remain limited. This is especially the case with studies of climate–fire interactions, which only recognize an effect of humans on the fire regime when they act independently of climate. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that an anthropogenic fire regime (fire incidence, size and extent) does not covary with climate. In the lightning regime, positive El Niño southern oscillation (ENSO) values increase lightning fire incidence, whereas La Niño (and associated increases in prior rainfall) increase fire size. ENSO has the opposite effect in the Martu regime, decreasing ignitions in El Niño conditions without affecting fire size. Anthropogenic ignition rates covary positively with high antecedent rainfall, whereas fire size varies only with high temperatures and unpredictable winds, which may reduce control over fire spread. However, total area burned is similarly predicted by antecedent rainfall in both regimes, but is driven by increases in fire size in the lightning regime, and fire number in the anthropogenic regime. We conclude that anthropogenic regimes covary with climatic variation, but detecting the human–climate–fire interaction requires multiple measures of both fire regime and climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150343
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1696
StatePublished - Jun 5 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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