AIMES Member Featured Research: Dolors Armenteras

Fire-induced loss of the world’s most biodiverse forests in Latin America

Dolors Armenteras1*, Liliana M. Dávalos2,3, Joan S. Barreto1, Alejandro Miranda4,5, Angela Hernández-Moreno6, Carlos Zamorano-Elgueta4,7, Tania M. González-Delgado1, María C. Meza-Elizalde1, Javier Retana8

1Laboratorio de Ecología del Paisaje y Modelación de Ecosistemas ECOLMOD, Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Bogotá, Bogotá, Colombia.

2Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, 630 Life Sciences Building, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA.

3Consortium for Inter-Disciplinary Environmental Research, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, 129 Dana Hall, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA.

4Center for Climate and Resilience Research (CR2), Santiago, Chile.

5Laboratorio de Ecología del Paisaje y Conservación, Departamento de Ciencias Forestales, Universidad de La Frontera, Temco, Chile.

6Centro de Investigación en Ecosistemas de la Patagonia (CIEP), Camino Baguales s/n Km 4, Coyhaique, Chile.

7Departamento de Ciencias Naturales y Tecnología, Universidad de Aysén, Coyhaique, Chile.

8CREAF- Universitat Autonoma Barcelona, 08193, Cerdanyola del Valles, Barcelona, Spain

Fire plays a dominant role in deforestation, particularly in the tropics, but the relative extent of transformations and influence of fire frequency on eventual forest loss remain unclear. Here, we analyze the frequency of fire and its influence on postfire forest trajectories between 2001 and 2018. We account for ~1.1% of Latin American forests burnt in 2002–2003 (8,465,850 ha). Although 40.1% of forests (3,393,250 ha) burned only once, by 2018, ~48% of the evergreen forests converted to other, primarily grass-dominated uses. While greater fire frequency yielded more transformation, our results reveal the staggering impact of even a single fire. Increasing fire frequency imposes greater risks of irreversible forest loss, transforming forests into ecosystems increasingly vulnerable to degradation. Reversing this trend is indispensable to both mitigate and adapt to climate change globally. As climate change transforms fire regimes across the region, key actions are needed to conserve Latin American forests.

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