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 Urba, John Mendelsohn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


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
Article number14374
Number of pages5
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2017

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