Madagascar’s fire regimes compared to the rest of the tropics

June 15, 2022

Bushfire is often seen as symbolic of environmental catastrophe on Madagascar. But is it? A global comparison of fire regimes based on satellite image data suggests care in jumping to such conclusions. A recent article in Global Change Biology, led by Leanne Phelps and to which I contributed, finds that the island’s fire regimes have analogues to 88% of fire regimes in the global tropics with similar climate and vegetation. Madagascar’s fires, while exceptionally vilified, are not exceptional. It also demonstrates that the large, landscape-scale grassland fires common across highland and western Madagascar have no relationship to forest loss; indeed forest loss occurs in places without large-scale fires.

Figure 3 from Phelps et al. (2022). Colours represent areas with similar fire regimes (clustered based on burnt area, fire size, seasonality, and numbers of fires). Black pixels represent fire regimes not found on Madagascar. Gray pixels are places without landscape-scale fire regimes. Photos: (a) tapia branch and chameleon at Ibity, (b) uncontrolled, peri-urban landscape fire in Ambositra [photo C. Kull, 2019], (c) a forest-savanna boundary in Ambohitantely, (d) ancient biodiverse grasslands on Ibity, (e) landscape fire in an agricultural region near Ambositra, likely for grassland renewal [photo by C. Kull, 1998/9], (f) tree cover on a forest-savanna boundary in Ambohitantely, (g) smallholder land use on Ibity.
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