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Simulating climate change impacts on fire frequency and vegetation dynamics in a Mediterranean-type ecosystem


Correspondence:Serge Rambal, fax (33) 4 67 61 21 38, e-mail


The impacts of climate change on Mediterranean-type ecosystems may result from complex interactions between direct effects on water stress and subsequent modifications in flammability and fire regime leading to changes in standing biomass and plant species composition. We analysed these interrelations through a simulation approach combining scenarios of climate change developed from GCM results and a multispecies functional model for vegetation dynamics, SIERRA. A fire risk procedure based on weekly estimates of vegetation water stress has been implemented. Using climate data from 1960 to 1997, simulations of a typical maquis woodland community have been performed as baseline and compared with two climate scenarios: a change in the rainfall regime alone, and changes in both rainfall and air temperature. Climate changes are defined by an increase in temperature, particularly in summer, and a change in the rainfall pattern leading to a decrease in low rainfall events, and an increase in intense rainfall events. The results illustrate the lack of drastic changes in the succession process, but highlight modifications in the water budget and in the length of the drought periods. Water stress lower than expected regarding statistics on the current climate is simulated, emphasizing a long-term new equilibrium of vegetation to summer drought but with a higher sensibility to rare events. Regarding fire frequency, climate changes tend to decrease the time interval between two successive fires from 20 to 16 years for the maquis shrubland and from 72 to 62 years in the forested stages. This increase in fire frequency leads to shrub-dominated landscapes, which accentuates the yield of water by additional deep drainage and runoff.

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