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Fire, climate change and human impact in tropical ecosystems: paleoecological insights from the East African region

Applicant Colombaroli Daniele
Number 126573
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 01.01.2010 - 31.01.2013
Approved amount 497'557.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Discipline
Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Environmental Research
Ecology

Keywords (6)

climatic change; East Africa; fire history; forest management; Holocene; tropical fire ecology

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Fire is an important ecological factor of disturbance in African tropical ecosystems, driving vegetation dynamics and regulating nutrient cycling and biomass. The significance of wildfires for future environmental processes is underlined by recent projections of global warming, which predict more frequent and more intense extremes of natural events. Particularly in East Africa, where population growth and natural resource exploitation are among the highest in the world, strategies for sustainable economic development will have to deal with environmental changes at regional to continental scales. Understanding such complex responses to global change requires long-term records, since only they provide a way to observe the response of ecosystems to large-magnitude environmental change on decadal and longer time scales. We use high-resolution charcoal data from lake-sediment cores to reconstruct past fire/climate/human interactions in East Africa, aiming in particular 1) to understand how the fire regime influenced vegetation dynamics during the last millennia in savannah-type and sub-humid tropical ecosystems, 2) to test whether changes in fire regime are coupled with episodes of past climatic extremes inferred from the available sedimentological data, and 3) to detect early human deforestation and the timing of increased fire frequencies beyond its natural variability. Additionally, we will apply novel techniques such as molecular markers (benzene polycarboxylic acids, BPCAs) to complement the standard sedimentary approaches to reconstruct Holocene fire history. The proposed research addresses new, highly relevant questions for today's key issue of sustainability (economic development, natural resource management, adaptation of vulnerable communities to global change). Additionally, it will contribute with new high-quality data to ongoing multi-proxy research concerning the magnitude, frequency, and rates of past climate change in equatorial East Africa. Finally, the project will contribute to our understanding of tropical ecosystem functioning and its interaction with regional, cultural, and economic systems.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Changes in biodiversity and vegetation composition in the central Swiss Alps during the transition from pristine forest to first farming
Colombaroli D, Beckmann M, van der Knaap WO, Curdy P, Tinner W (2013), Changes in biodiversity and vegetation composition in the central Swiss Alps during the transition from pristine forest to first farming, in DIVERSITY AND DISTRIBUTIONS, 19(2), 157-170.
Tropical fire ecology across the African continent: A paleoecological perspective PAGES news 18 (2): 65-67.
Colombaroli D, Verschuren D (2010), Tropical fire ecology across the African continent: A paleoecological perspective PAGES news 18 (2): 65-67..

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
University of Zurich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
International workshop on scientific drilling in Lake Challa: the climatic and ecological history of equatorial East Africa 10.09.2012 Nairobi and Taveta (Kenya)
Paleofire reconstruction during the Holocene and the last interglacial: Proxies, data and models 21.07.2012 Venice (Italy)
Paleo Reconstructions of Biogeochemical Environments 19.04.2012 Manhattan (Kansas, USA)
Biweekly Colloquia - Graduate school “Human Development in Landscapes” 02.04.2012 Kiel
Landscape Planning for the Future Using fossil records to map potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments for biodiversity and ecosystem services 09.01.2012 Oxford (UK)
XVIII International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) 21.07.2011 Bern (CH)


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
145077 Fire, climate change and human impact in tropical ecosystems: long-term biodiversity and stand dynamics of tropical vegetation 01.03.2013 Ambizione
133817 Environmental Analysis and Dating with Radiocarbon using MICADAS 01.12.2010 R'EQUIP
145077 Fire, climate change and human impact in tropical ecosystems: long-term biodiversity and stand dynamics of tropical vegetation 01.03.2013 Ambizione

Abstract

Fire is an important ecological factor of disturbance in African tropical ecosystems, driving vegetation dynamics and regulating nutrient cycling and biomass. The significance of wildfires for future environmental processes is underlined by recent projections of global warming, which predict more frequent and more intense extremes of natural events. Particularly in East Africa, where population growth and natural resource exploitation are among the highest in the world, strategies for sustainable economic development will have to deal with environmental changes at regional to continental scales. Understanding such complex responses to global change requires long-term records, since only they provide a way to observe the response of ecosystems to large-magnitude environmental change on decadal and longer time scales. We use high-resolution charcoal data from lake-sediment cores to reconstruct past fire/climate/human interactions in East Africa, aiming in particular 1) to understand how the fire regime influenced vegetation dynamics during the last millennia in savannah-type and sub-humid tropical ecosystems, 2) to test whether changes in fire regime are coupled with episodes of past climatic extremes inferred from the available sedimentological data, and 3) to detect early human deforestation and the timing of increased fire frequencies beyond its natural variability. Additionally, we will apply novel techniques such as molecular markers (benzene polycarboxylic acids, BPCAs) to complement the standard sedimentary approaches to reconstruct Holocene fire history. The proposed research addresses new, highly relevant questions for today’s key issue of sustainability (economic development, natural resource management, adaptation of vulnerable communities to global change). Additionally, it will contribute with new high-quality data to ongoing multi-proxy research concerning the magnitude, frequency, and rates of past climate change in equatorial East Africa. Finally, the project will contribute to our understanding of tropical ecosystem functioning and its interaction with regional, cultural, and economic systems.
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