Socioeconomic Factors Drive Fire-Regime Variability in the Mediterranean Basin

By Guillem Canaleta on

In recent decades, fires in Mediterranean Europe have become larger and more frequent. This trend has been driven by socioeconomic changes that have generated rural depopulation and changes in traditional land use. Within the Mediterranean Basin, the most contrasting socioeconomic conditions are found by comparing southern European with North African countries, and thus our hypothesis is that this difference generates contrasting fire regimes between the two regions. Specifically, we predict that current fire regimes in Mediterranean Africa resemble past fire regimes in the Mediterranean Europe when rural activities dominated the landscape. To test our hypothesis, we compared fire statistics from the western Rif (northern Morocco, 1988–2015) and from Valencia (eastern Spain, 1880–2014). The results suggest that the Rif has a typical Mediterranean fire regime with fires occurring in the hot, dry summer season. However, fires are very small and the annual proportion of burnt area is very low, compared to the current regime in Valencia (post-1970s). The current Rif fire size class distribution matches the fire regime in Valencia prior to the 1970s before the collapse of the rural population and when fires were fuel-limited. The shift in the recent decades in fire regime observed in different countries of the Mediterranean Europe (from small, fuel-limited fires to drought-driven fires) can be identified when moving from the southern to the northern rim of the basin. That is, most spatial and temporal variability in fire regimes of the Mediterranean Basin is driven by shifts in the amounts of fuel and continuity imposed by changes in socioeconomic drivers.

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