FIRE: Fire Intensity in Rainforest Ecotones
The combined factors of global warming and increased human disturbance in the 21st century are projected to cause an unprecedented increase in fire activity in the Amazon Basin. The increase in recent fire activity is most notable in Amazonian rainforest ecotones (AREs), a naturally occurring vegetation transition zone from fire-averse rainforest to fire-prone savanna vegetation. To date, AREs have largely been neglected in conservation initiatives and the long-term ecological effects of fire in AREs remain poorly understood. The aim of Project FIRE is to develop an interdisciplinary framework that will provide a better understanding of the long-term drivers of fire in AREs and how future climate and changes in land-use practices may impact these vital ecosystems. I have the honor of working with an extraordinary team of international, interdisciplinary researchers including Will Gosling, Crystal McMichael, Emiel van Loon, and Boris Jansen from the University of Amsterdam, Boris Vannière from the Université de Franche-Comté, Jose Iriarte from the University of Exeter, and Francisco Cruz from the University of São Paulo.
One of the ways we reconstruct past fire activity is through the use of charcoal preserved in lake sediments. Charcoal can tell us a lot about what past fires were like including what kind of plants were burning, how often fires occurred, and potentially how big a fire was. One of the more elusive components is paleofire intensity, or how hot a particular fire was. The temperature of a fire has important ecological implications, as hotter fires tend to cause more ecological damage. Lots of factors can contribute to fire intensity including droughts, fuel loads, vegetation composition and structure, fuel moisture, etc. One of the main objectives of my Marie Curie research will be to compile what we currently know about the effect of fire intensity on the charcoal chemistry to figure out how this information can be used to interpret charcoal from the palaeorecord. We are currently developing a new approach using Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) to reconstruct the temperatures of ancient fires. Stay tuned for more details!