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Fire, climate change and human impact in tropical ecosystems: long-term biodiversity and stand dynamics of tropical vegetation

Applicant Colombaroli Daniele
Number 145077
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Institut für Pflanzenwissenschaften Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.03.2013 - 31.03.2014
Approved amount 192'413.44
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All Disciplines (4)

Discipline
Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Ecology
Botany
Environmental Research

Keywords (6)

tropical ecosystems; forest management; biodiversity; East Africa; stand dynamics; climate change

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Forecasted change in precipitation may lead to an increase of biomass in area covered by savannah and to a consequent increase in biomass burning, affecting the carbon emissions at global scale. Understanding how tropical ecosystems will react to those changes is relevant particularly for East Africa, where population density is the highest of the continent. We generated high-resolution sediment charcoal data spanning the last 2000 years across a climatic gradient (wet to dry savannah) to assess the long-term impact of fire, climate and land use on tropical savannah ecosystems. Records of biomass burnings show contrasting fire pattern among the two regions. In wet savannah ecosystems, fire was limited by wetter periods until the colonial period (AD 1800), when biomass removal led to a decrease in burning. In contrast, in the dry setting of Kenya, fire conditions during the last 2k years peaked at intermediate rainfall, and increased in recent times following land use intensification. On the basis of our data we hypothesize that under a future scenario with increased rainfall fire will increase in the wet savannah and decrease in the (eastern) dry savannah, unless fuel will be limited by agriculture practices. Yet, it is not understood how important vegetation properties and ecosystem services such as plant biomass and diversity will respond to inter-annual to seasonal variation in the moisture balance, and how tropical species will cope with extreme events, such as droughts. The following proposal addresses highly relevant questions for today’s key issues of biodiversity and the adaptation of vulnerable communities to global change. Additionally, it will contribute to ongoing multi-proxy research concerning the magnitude, frequency, and rates of past climate change in equatorial East Africa. Finally, the project will improve our understanding of tropical ecosystem functioning and its interaction with cultural and economic systems at local to regional scales.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Hans Beeckman - RMCA Belgium Belgium (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Julius Lejju - University of Mbarara Uganda (Africa)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel
Matthias Saurer - PSI Villigen Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Paolo Cherubini - Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL - Birmensdorf Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
BELSPO Kickoff meeting Talk given at a conference Potential of stable isotopes in tropical tree rings 27.03.2014 Brussels, Belgium Colombaroli Daniele;
OCCR WP1-2 meeting Talk given at a conference Climatic control of the millennial-scale fire variability in wet and dry savannas of equatorial East Africa 08.11.2013 Bern, Switzerland Colombaroli Daniele;
Eeastern African Quaternary Research Association (EAQUA) 4th Workshop Talk given at a conference Long-term records of biomass burning in wet and dry savannas of East Africa 23.07.2013 Nanyuki, Kenya Colombaroli Daniele;
FIREMAN final meeting Talk given at a conference Fire history case studies with implications for forest management 17.06.2013 Tallberg, Sweden Colombaroli Daniele;


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
126573 Fire, climate change and human impact in tropical ecosystems: paleoecological insights from the East African region 01.01.2010 Ambizione
126573 Fire, climate change and human impact in tropical ecosystems: paleoecological insights from the East African region 01.01.2010 Ambizione

Abstract

Forecasted change in precipitation may lead to an increase of biomass in area covered by savannah and to a consequent increase in biomass burning, affecting the carbon emissions at global scale. Understanding how tropical ecosystems will react to those changes is relevant particularly for East Africa, where population density is the highest of the continent. We generated high-resolution sediment charcoal data spanning the last 2000 years across a climatic gradient (wet to dry savannah) to assess the long-term impact of fire, climate and land use on tropical savannah ecosystems. Records of biomass burnings show contrasting fire pattern among the two regions. In wet savannah ecosystems, fire was limited by wetter periods until the colonial period (AD 1800), when biomass removal led to a decrease in burning. In contrast, in the dry setting of Kenya, fire conditions during the last 2k years peaked at intermediate rainfall, and increased in recent times following land use intensification. On the basis of our data we hypothesize that under a future scenario with increased rainfall fire will increase in the wet savannah and decrease in the (eastern) dry savannah, unless fuel will be limited by agriculture practices. Yet, it is not understood how important vegetation properties and ecosystem services such as plant biomass and diversity will respond to inter-annual to seasonal variation in the moisture balance, and how tropical species will cope with extreme events, such as droughts. The following proposal addresses highly relevant questions for today’s key issues of biodiversity and the adaptation of vulnerable communities to global change. Additionally, it will contribute to ongoing multi-proxy research concerning the magnitude, frequency, and rates of past climate change in equatorial East Africa. Finally, the project will improve our understanding of tropical ecosystem functioning and its interaction with cultural and economic systems at local to regional scales.
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