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Regional-scale spatial patterns of fire in relation to rainfall gradients in sub-tropical mountains, NW Argentina


Héctor Ricardo Grau, Laboratorio de Investigaciones Ecológicas de las Yungas, Casilla de Correo 34 (4107) Yerba Buena, Tucumán, Argentina.


  • 1Spatial patterns of burns are described using Landsat TM images from the sub-tropical mountains of north-west Argentina, over a span of 6 degrees of latitude, and a precipitation range from 250 to 1300 mm/yr. Burns were discriminated easily from unburnt vegetation, mainly by using infrared spectral bands from images taken at the end of the fire season of 1986.
  • 2Nineteen sampling units were defined on the basis of geographical proximity and relatively homogeneous rainfall as inferred from topography, and they were characterized in terms of percentage of burnt area and burn size distribution during one fire season. Regression and Correspondence Analysis were used to assess the relationship between rainfall and spatial descriptors of fire regime.
  • 3Burnt size area was log-normally distributed with most fires in the small-size classes. Of a total of 643 burns, the five largest (more than 2000 hectares each) represented about 30% of the total burnt area.
  • 4Percentage of burnt area, density of burns per unit area, and skewness of the burn-size frequency distribution showed a unimodal pattern along the rainfall gradient, peaking between 700 and 900 mm/yr. Mean and maximum burn size showed a negative but weak correlation with rainfall. The first axis of a Correspondence Analysis ordination of sampling units, on the basis of different descriptors of spatial patterns of fire, was significantly correlated with the rainfall of the sampling unit.
  • 5The results suggest that climate is an important factor controlling fuel conditions and therefore fire regime at the spatial scale of this study, which includes different mountain ranges spanning ≈ 700 km.