This research project contributes new knowledge and develops new approaches for understanding fire as a globally significant process, which has long been influenced by climate and humans. Because fire is an important natural disturbance, alterations of fire regimes can have significant impacts on vulnerable ecosystems. The investigators will develop new strategies to advance research about past human-environment dynamics from landscape to regional scales. The project will provide new perspectives, information, insights, and approaches to advance basic understanding of recent fires as well as long-term fire trends in the U.S. and globally. The project also will provide important insights about ecosystem resilience that can inform conservation and resource management of fragile ecoregions in various parts of the world. Project results will enhance the capacity of public agencies to better understand impacts of fire and to develop more effective preventive and mitigation procedures.
The project will use new ecosystems modeling approaches to analyze paleoecological and archeological data in order to identify human-related burning activities. It will examine the environmental consequences of fire and assess the biophysical feedbacks of such fires. The investigators will focus on the late Holocene period to gain a better understanding of the controls of fire at a time when climate variability was high and human populations were growing and expanding in the southern hemisphere. They will conduct analyses to answer three main questions: (1) What is the nature of past and present fire regimes driven by climate and vegetation conditions? (2) What are the ecological consequences of different land-use practices that require fire? (3) What are the potential vegetation feedbacks that may have reinforced deliberate burning strategies? The proposed data-model framework will help to identify the importance of changes in human land use and slowly varying drivers in climate, and they will help enhance understanding of climate variability and vegetation feedbacks in the mid-latitudes. The interdisciplinary approach will improve current qualitative paleoecological and archeological reconstructions, and it will complement insights gained from ecological research underway in the U.S. and internationally.