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Keywords:

  • boreal forest;
  • climate change;
  • fire;
  • Northeast China;
  • spatial point pattern analysis

Abstract

Understanding the spatial patterns of fire occurrence and its response to climate change is vital to fire risk mitigation and vegetation management. Focusing on boreal forests in Northeast China, we used spatial point pattern analysis to model fire occurrence reported from 1965 to 2009. Our objectives were to quantitate the relative importance of biotic, abiotic, and human influences on patterns of fire occurrence and to map the spatial distribution of fire occurrence density (number of fires occurring over a given area and time period) under current and future climate conditions. Our results showed human-caused fires were strongly related to human activities (e.g. landscape accessibility), including proximity to settlements and roads. In contrast, fuel moisture and vegetation type were the most important controlling factors on the spatial pattern of lightning fires. Both current and future projected spatial distributions of the overall (human- + lightning-caused) fire occurrence density were strongly clustered along linear components of human infrastructure. Our results demonstrated that the predicted change in overall fire occurrence density is positively related to the degree of temperature and precipitation change, although the spatial pattern of change is expected to vary spatially according to proximity to human ignition sources, and in a manner inconsistent with predicted climate change. Compared to the current overall fire occurrence density (median value: 0.36 fires per 1000 km2 per year), the overall fire occurrence density is projected to increase by 30% under the CGCM3 B1 scenario and by 230% under HadCM3 A2 scenario in 2081–2100, respectively. Our results suggest that climate change effects may not outweigh the effects of human influence on overall fire occurrence over the next century in this cultural landscape. Accurate forecasts of future fire-climate relationships should account for anthropogenic influences on fire ignition density, such as roads and proximity to settlements.