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Fire Regimes and Their Drivers in the Upper Guinean Region of West Africa

Abstract

The Upper Guinean region of West Africa exhibits strong geographic variation in land use, climate, vegetation, and human population and has experienced phenomenal biophysical and socio-economic changes in recent decades. All of these factors influence spatial heterogeneity and temporal trends in fires, but their combined effects on fire regimes are not well understood. The main objectives of this study were to characterize the spatial patterns and interrelationships of multiple fire regime components, identify recent trends in fire activity, and explore the relative influences of climate, topography, vegetation type, and human activity on fire regimes. Fire regime components, including active fire density, burned area, fire season length, and fire radiative power, were characterized using MODIS fire products from 2003 to 2015. Both active fire and burned area were most strongly associated with vegetation type, whereas fire season length was most strongly influenced by climate and topography variables, and fire radiative power was most strongly influenced by climate. These associations resulted in a gradient of increasing fire activity from forested coastal regions to the savanna-dominated interior, as well as large variations in burned area and fire season length within the savanna regions and high fire radiative power in the westernmost coastal regions. There were increasing trends in active fire detections in parts of the Western Guinean Lowland Forests ecoregion and decreasing trends in both active fire detections and burned area in savanna-dominated ecoregions. These results portend that ongoing regional landscape and socio-economic changes along with climate change will lead to further changes in the fire regimes in West Africa. Efforts to project future fire regimes and develop regional strategies for adaptation will need to encompass multiple components of the fire regime and consider multiple drivers, including land use as well as climate

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