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Fires are an important landscape disturbance which interact in a complex way with land-use and land-cover changes. The objective of this study is to understand the role of fires on vegetation- cover changes, and conversely the role of land use as a controlling factor of fires. The study sites are located in Mato Grosso, Brazil; Central Africa and on the Kenya-Tanzania border. The role of vegetation fires is addressed through a landscape-scale analysis of the spatial association between maps of active fires and maps of land-cover changes derived from remote sensing data for the different sites in Africa and South America. The empirical results of this study clearly support the idea that fires have widely varying impacts on land cover in savannah and forest ecosystems. Fires play different roles in different components of landscape mosaics, at different components of landscape mosaics, at different moments of land-cover change trajectories. The impact of fires on vegetation is mainly controlled by land use. There is thus a need to consider the socio-economic purpose of biomass burning and the context in which such activities are taking place. In forest ecosystems, a statistically significant relationship exists between the occurrence of fires and forest-cover changes. One could not conclude however that fires are always the cause of the change in land cover nor that fires are a reliable indicator of "hot spots" of deforestation. Current low spatial resolution information on fire activity derived from remote sensing systems can be prone to inaccuracies due to a poor co-location of fire with respect to land cover data, and temporal sampling problems affecting fire data.

Additional information

Authors: HUGH E, JRC-Space Applications Institute, Ispra (IT);LAMBIN E.F, Department of Geography, UniversitÚ catholique de Louvain, Place Louis Pasteur, Louvain-la-Neuve (BE)
Bibliographic Reference: An article published in: Journal of Biogeography. Vol.27 (2000) pp.765-776
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