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  Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 17(6)

Are wildfires a disaster in the Mediterranean basin? – A review

Juli G. Pausas A D, Joan Llovet A, Anselm Rodrigo B, Ramon Vallejo A C

A CEAM (Centro de Estudios Ambientales del Mediterráneo), C/ Charles R. Darwin 14, Parc Tecnologic, E-46980 Paterna, Valencia, Spain.
B CREAF (Centre de Recerca i Applicacions Forestals), Department of Ecology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, E-08193 Bellaterra, Spain.
C Department of Plant Biology, Universitat de Barcelona, E-08028 Barcelona, Spain.
D Corresponding author. Present address: CIDE, CISC, Apartado Oficial, E-46470 Albal, Valencia, Spain. Email: juli.g.pausas@uv.es
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Evolutionary and paleoecological studies suggest that fires are natural in the Mediterranean basin. However, the important increase in the number of fires and area burned during the 20th century has created the perception that fires are disasters. In the present paper, we review to what extent fires are generating ecological disasters in the Mediterranean basin, in view of current fire regimes and the long-term human pressure on the landscapes. Specifically, we review studies on post-fire plant regeneration and soil losses. The review suggests that although many Mediterranean ecosystems are highly resilient to fire (shrublands and oak forest), some are fire-sensitive (e.g. pine woodlands). Observed erosion rates are, in some cases, relatively high, especially in high fire severity conditions. The sensitive ecosystems (in the sense of showing strong post-fire vegetation changes and soil losses) are mostly of human origin (e.g. extensive pine plantations in old fields). Thus, although many Mediterranean basin plants have traits to cope with fire, a large number of the ecosystems currently found in this region are strongly altered, and may suffer disasters. Post-fire disasters are not the rule, but they may be important under conditions of previous human disturbances.

Keywords: erosion rates, Mediterranean-type ecosystems, post-fire regeneration, resilience, resprouting, soil losses.

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