Meyn, A; Buhk, C; White, PS; Jentsch, A: Environmental drivers of large, infrequent wildfires: the emerging conceptual model, Progress in Physical Geography, 31(3), 287-312 (2007), doi:DOI: 10.1177/0309133307079365
Key words: biomass, climate, disturbance interaction, fire size, fire suppression, fire weather, fuel amount, fuel moisture
Large, infrequent fires (LIFs) can have substantial impacts on both ecosystems and the economy. To better understand LIFs and to better predict the effects of human management and climate change on their occurrence, we must first determine the factors that produce them. Here, we review local and regional literature investigating the drivers of LIFs. The emerging conceptual model proposes that ecosystems can be typified based on climatic conditions that determine both fuel moisture and fuel amount. The concept distinguishes three ecosystem types: (1) biomass-rich, rarely dry ecosystems where fuel moisture rather than fuel amount limits LIFs; (2) biomass-poor, at least seasonally dry ecosystems where fuel amount rather than fuel moisture limits LIFs; and (3) biomass-poor, rarely dry ecosystems where both fuel amount and fuel moisture limit the occurrence of LIFs. Our main goal in this paper is to discuss the drivers of LIFs and the three mentioned ecosystem types in a global context. Further, we will discuss the drivers that are not included within the ‘fuels’ versus ‘climate’ discussion. Finally, we will address the question: what kinds of additional information are needed if models predicting LIFs are to be coupled with global climate models? As with all generalizations, there are local deviations and modifications due to processes such as disturbance interaction or human impact. These processes tend to obscure the general patterns of the occurrence of LIFs and are likely to cause much of the observed controversy and confusion in the literature.
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