Rare, Intense, Big fires dominate the global tropics under drier conditions

Stijn Hantson, Marten Scheffer, Salvador Pueyo, Chi Xu, Gitta Lasslop, Egbert H. Van Nes, Milena Holmgren, John Mendelsohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Wildfires burn large parts of the tropics every year, shaping ecosystem structure and functioning. Yet the complex interplay between climate, vegetation and human factors that drives fire dynamics is still poorly understood. Here we show that on all continents, except Australia, tropical fire regimes change drastically as mean annual precipitation falls below 550 mm. While the frequency of fires decreases below this threshold, the size and intensity of wildfires rise sharply. This transition to a regime of Rare-Intense-Big fires (RIB-fires) corresponds to the relative disappearance of trees from the landscape. Most dry regions on the globe are projected to become substantially drier under global warming. Our findings suggest a global zone where this drying may have important implications for fire risks to society and ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14374
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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