In this study we combined an extensive database of observed wildfires with high-resolution meteorological data to build a novel spatially and temporally varying survival model to analyze fire regimes in the Mediterranean ecosystem in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) of South Africa during the period 1980-2000. The model revealed an important influence of seasonally anomalous weather on fire probability, with increased probability of fire in seasons that are warmer and drier than average. In addition to these local-scale influences, the Antarctic Ocean Oscillation (AAO) was identified as an important large-scale influence or teleconnection to global circulation patterns. Fire probability increased in seasons during positive AAO phases, when the subtropical jet moves northward and low level moisture transport decreases. These results confirm that fire occurrence in the CFR is strongly affected by climatic variability at both local and global scales, and thus likely to respond sensitively to future climate change. Comparison of the modelled fire probability between two periods (1951-1975 and 1976-2000) revealed a 4-year decrease in an average fire return time. If, as currently forecasted, climate change in the region continues to produce higher temperatures, more frequent heat waves, and/or lower rainfall, our model thus indicates that fire frequency is likely to increase substantially. The regional implications of shorter fire return times include shifting community structure and composition, favoring species that tolerate more frequent fires. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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