International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Effect of land-cover change on Africa’s burnt area

J.-M. Grégoire A B , H. D. Eva A , A. S. Belward A , I. Palumbo A , D. Simonetti A and A. Brink A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, I-21027 Ispra, Italy.

B Corresponding author. Email: jean-marie.gregoire@jrc.ec.europa.eu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 22(2) 107-120 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF11142
Submitted: 23 September 2011  Accepted: 29 March 2012   Published: 5 September 2012

Abstract

As Africa contributes some 64% of the global extent of area burnt annually, uncertainty concerning fire activity in the continent is an important issue. In this study, we quantify the effect of land-cover conversion from natural vegetation to agriculture on burnt area extent. This is based on the comparison of contemporary fire distribution in 189 protected areas where agricultural activity is largely absent with that occurring in the surrounding regions, where agriculture is practised. Results indicate a decrease in the total area burnt annually in Africa linked to the loss of natural vegetation communities due to expanding agricultural lands. Land-use change within the savanna vegetation units of Africa has led to a decrease in burnt area in the order of ~8 × 105 ha year–1, which corresponds to 0.4% of the area currently burnt in Africa. The resulting decrease in the quantity of biomass burnt in any year would be between 3.4 and 9 Tg, depending on the estimates of aboveground fuel biomass. Deforestation in the humid tropical forest domains may act as a small counterbalance to the trend of decreasing burnt area linked to land-use change in the short term.

Additional keywords: climate change, fire regime, land-use change, protected areas.


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