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Long-term trends in vegetation dynamics and forest fires in Brandenburg (Germany) under a changing climate

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Thonicke, K., & Cramer, W. (2006). Long-term trends in vegetation dynamics and forest fires in Brandenburg (Germany) under a changing climate. Natural Hazards, 38(1-2), 283-300. doi:10.1007/s11069-005-8639-8.

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The human influence on environmental processes has been described for many types of land use. One of the oldest tools to modify people's environment is fire, which has dominated fire regimes in many regions over long time scales. This paper focuses on a German case study region, where 80-90% of the fires are human-caused. The objectives of this study are the application of the Regional Fire Model (Reg-FIRM), a process-based fire model that is incorporated into the LPJ Dynamic Global Vegetation Model, to temperate forests under historic climate conditions and to explore ranges of potential impacts of future climate change on fire and vegetation dynamics. Simulation experiments are designed to simulate historic fire pattern and to explore influences of vegetation on fire. Simulated fire pattern reproduced the observed average fire conditions reasonably well although with a smaller amplitude. This leads to underestimation of extreme fire years as well as an overestimation of low fire years. Vegetation composition influenced fire spread conditions in the temperate forest and had little impact on fire ignition potentials, except when only broad-leaved deciduous forests were assumed. Fire is likely to change under climate change conditions. Simulated experiments were conducted to explore the effects of climate change and rising CO2 concentration given the potential natural vegetation as the best-case for Brandenburg. Three GCM scenarios predicting different future climatic changes were applied, and resulted in quantitatively different future fire patterns. Depending on future precipitation pattern and the influence of the CO2 effect on canopy conductance and thus litter moisture, fire was predicted to either decrease or slightly increase in Brandenburg forests, but the burnt area would not exceed current, extreme fire years. Generally, fire changes had no implication for vegetation composition in Brandenburg, but reduced vegetation carbon gain after 2050. In the HadCM3 application, simulated increase in grass cover due to a large burnt area after 2075 accelerated fire spread conditions, thus still increasing the burnt area, while climatic fire danger and number of fires already began to decline. These interactions underline the importance to consider the full range of fire processes and interactions with vegetation dynamics in a simulation model.