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Fires and land-cover change in the tropics:a remote sensing analysis at the landscape scale

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Abstract Aim

Fires are an important landscape disturbance which interact in a complex way with land-use and land-cover change. The objective of this study is to understand the role of fires in vegetation-cover change and, conversely, the role of land use as a controlling factor of fires. Location

The study sites are located in Mato Grosso, Brazil, in Central Africa and on the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Methods

The role of vegetation fire is addressed through a landscape-scale analysis of the spatial association between maps of active fires and maps of land-cover change derived from remote sensing data for the different sites in Africa and South America. Results

The empirical results of this study clearly support the idea that fires have widely varying impacts on land cover in savanna and forest ecosystems. Fires play different roles within the different components of landscape mosaics and at different times of the land-cover change trajectory. The impact of fires on vegetation is mainly controlled by land use. Conclusions

There is thus a need to consider the socioeconomic purpose of biomass burning and the context in which such activities are undertaken. In forest ecosystems, a statistically significant relationship exists between the occurrence of fires and forest-cover changes. One could not conclude however, that fires are always the cause of the change in land cover, nor that fires are a reliable indicator of ‘hot spots’ of deforestation. Current low spatial resolution information on fire activity derived from remote sensing systems can be prone to inaccuracies due to a poor co-location of fire with respect to land-cover data, and temporal sampling problems affecting fire data.

Keywords: Biomass burning; fires; land-cover change; landscape disturbance; remote sensing

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Space Applications Institute, Joint Research Centre, I–21020 Ispra (Varese), Italy and 2: Department of Geography, Universit√© catholique de Louvain, Place Louis Pasteur 3, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Publication date: 2000-05-01

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