Vegetation fires in the Anthropocene

Vegetation fires are an essential component of the Earth system but can also cause substantial economic losses, severe air pollution, human mortality and environmental damage. Contemporary fire regimes are increasingly impacted by human activities and climate change, but, owing to the complex fire–human–climate interactions and incomplete historical or long-term datasets, it is difficult to detect and project fire-regime trajectories. 

In this review, David M. J. S. Bowman and colleagues describe recent global and regional trends in fire activity and examine projections for fire regimes in the near future. Although there are large uncertainties, it is likely that the economic and environmental impacts of vegetation fires will worsen as a result of anthropogenic climate change. These effects will be particularly prominent in flammable forests in populated temperate zones, the sparsely inhabited flammable boreal zone and fire-sensitive tropical rainforests, and will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. 

The impacts of increased fire activity can be mitigated through effective stewardship of fire regimes, which should be achieved through evidence-based fire management that incorporates indigenous and local knowledge, combined with planning and design of natural and urban landscapes. Increasing transdisciplinary research is needed to fully understand how Anthropocene fire regimes are changing and how humans must adapt.

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