AFIRE - Assessing ENSO-induced Fire Impacts in tropical Rainforest Ecosystems

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre

Abstract

Tropical forests store more than a half of the world's forest carbon and produce over one third of the productivity of all terrestrial systems. They are also biodiversity hotspots, and host a large proportion of the world's terrestrial flora and fauna. However, growing evidence shows that the ability of tropical forests to perform important ecosystem services (i.e. carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation) has been dramatically reduced by multiple pressures associated with human-induced forest disturbances (e.g. agriculture, logging, fire and fragmentation) and extreme climate events. Of these disturbances, fire represents of the greatest threats. Rainforests have not co-evolved with fire, and species have not adapted to withstand fire or the changes it imposes on the forests. Yet today, ignition sources are common in most human-modified regions, as many local farmers living within tropical forests traditionally use fire as a management technique to prepare their land for planting. This is compounded by selective logging and fragmentation, which increase the flammability of the remaining forests. Critically, fires are much more likely to escape their target area and enter the surrounding forests during severe drought events.

This is exactly what happened during the current 2015-16 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) - considered one of the three strongest events ever recorded. The prolonged dry season allowed thousands of fires to get out of control in Amazonian and SE Asian tropical rainforests. Specifically in the Brazilian Amazon, the end of 2015 was marked by over 87,000 fire events, a 48% increase in relation to 2014 (a non-ENSO year). As a result, the widespread wildfires affected half of our 20 permanent plots near the Santarém region in the state of Pará, while fortunately preserving the other ten plots unburned. The Sustainable Amazon Network (SAN) has established these plots along a gradient of forest modification in 2010, and since 2014 a joint project between UK and Brazilian scientists (ECOFOR) has been carrying out research in this region. Consequently, the work we are proposing here benefits from unique and detailed pre-fire information on carbon dynamics and plant functional traits (from ECOFOR) as well as the distribution of three distinct taxa (birds, dung beetles and plants) and secondary seed dispersal processes (from SAN). Uniquely our network of permanent plots is established along an existing gradient of forest modification before the 2015 fires, allowing us to undertake the first rigorous evaluation of fire effects across different forest disturbance classes.

This ability to examine fire impacts using detailed pre-fire data allows us to develop three major avenues of research across a human-modified gradient of forest disturbances: (1) the impacts of very severe wildfires on plant communities and carbon dynamics, assessing therefore which plant functional traits may predict species mortality, survival and recruitment; (2) an investigation into the fire impacts on forest fauna (i.e. birds and dung beetles) and associated seed dispersal processes; and (3) the development of a detailed understanding of scale and impacts of the current extreme ENSO-event, exploring the relationship between remote sensing information and ground-based measures. The better linkages between remote-sensing products and actual measures of fire severity will allow us to scale up the carbon emission and biodiversity loss estimates across the whole region.

The results fo AFIRE are critically important, as tropical forests around the world may be threatened by drier, hotter and longer dry seasons with climate change. Our findings will help inform mitigation strategies to manage the impacts of future ENSO-mediated droughts and severe wildfires on tropical forests. We also expect AFIRE plots to form the basis of much longer-term research on the impacts of tropical wildfire

Planned Impact

AFIRE aims to impact three distinct non-academic audiences: (i) Amazonian stakeholders and decision-makers; (ii) Amazonian schools and communities, and (iii) The general public (especially in Brazil, other tropical forest nations, and the UK).

(i) Through the AFIRE stakeholder meeting at the end of the project, we expect to contribute to the discussion and development of effective fire management strategies to be applied by the Amazonian stakeholders and decision-makers. These has potential to benefit the national and regional environmental agencies (IBAMA and SEMA, respectively), and local park managers (FLONA Tapajós) in Brazil, which could apply these strategies for improving the forest management plan of Brazilian protected areas. As result, we also expect that effective fire management-policies will benefit the regional farmers union (represented by SIRSAN), as well as the local logging concession (COMFLONA), by reducing the chances of further wildfire occurrence on farmers' plantations and high-timber forests, respectively. Through inviting companies and NGOs which are implementing REDD+ projects in the region to our stakeholder meeting, we also hope to furthering discuss the importance of considering forest fires in the REDD+ policies.

(ii) We will ensure that AFIRE distributes its main results in the form of booklets, using accessible language (and translated to Portuguese). We will focus our efforts on schools and communities in the Santarém region, building on already established contacts with community leaders and school directors in the region. In doing so, we intend to increase the awareness of local people about the fire impacts on forest structure, biodiversity and ecosystem processes. We will also produce species lists of all the three sampled taxa to be shared with the landowners of our 20 permanent plots, which include many smallholders and the ICMBio (local park manager of Tapajós National Forest). We expect this dissemination exercise to be carried out by the PDRA, who will benefit by to improving his/her communication skills in non-academic environments.

(iii) The general public (especially in Brazil, other tropical forest nations, and the UK) will be benefited through an increased understanding of the impacts of ENSO-mediated droughts and consequent wildfires on tropical forest structure, biodiversity and ecosystem processes. To achieve this, we will build on our previous experience in scientific communication for both academic and non-academic communities via blogposts, websites and educational videos. In particular, we have recently achieved a great level of public attention when disseminating our research through the UK and Brazilian media. We achieved half of million readers when The Daily Express re-published our blogpost about the El Niño fires in the Amazon, previously published in The Conservation blog; and up to four million readers in Brazil, when O Globo, the largest Brazilian newspaper, published two articles about the impacts of ENSO fires in the Amazon forest. Informing the general public will increase their involvement with environmental issues related to tropical forests. As public opinion has clear potential to influence policy-makers, we expect further positive effects on the development of wildfire mitigation policies, specifically in Brazil and other tropical forest nations.

Publications

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Barlow J (2020) Clarifying Amazonia's burning crisis. in Global change biology

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Berenguer E (2018) Tree growth and stem carbon accumulation in human-modified Amazonian forests following drought and fire. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Rifai SW (2018) ENSO Drives interannual variation of forest woody growth across the tropics. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Silva C (2018) Drought-induced Amazonian wildfires instigate a decadal-scale disruption of forest carbon dynamics in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

 
Description As a part of the AFIRE project we sampled birds, dung beetles and plants in forest sites after the extreme El Niño drought in 2015-16. Some of our sites were affected only by the drought, whereas others were also burned by agricultural fires which were more likely to spread beyond the target areas due to the prolonged dry season. After comparing our results with data sampled in 2010, we found that the El-Niño drought and fires reduced the diversity of species of birds, beetles and plants in all examined forests.
Furthermore, we found that the impact was even more devastating in areas which had been previously affected by human-induced forest disturbance such as logging and burning. These areas were showing an even greater reduction of species diversity compared to the pre-El Niño situation.
Exploitation Route Part of our results is already being used by the regional environmental agency Instituto Chico Mendes (ICMBio) for designing the Management Plan of the Tapajós National Forest, particularly in relation to fire avoidance and fire management.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description We have built a strong relationship with the regional environmental agency Instituto Chico Mendes (ICMBio), linked to the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, and have participated in several meetings and discussions with this organisation. ICMBio is now drawing on our experience as researchers to incorporate fire avoidance and fire management strategies in designing the Management Plan for the Tapajós National Forest. We also presented AFIRE results to local indigenous communities, highlighting the importance of avoiding and controlling fires. The farmers from these communities often use slash-and-burn agriculture, which presents a great risk to the forest in the changing climate. The indigenous communities are aware of the importance of the forest for their material and spiritual well-being and demonstrated a great interest in managing their fires to prevent wildfires.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description First stakeholders meeting at Instituto Chico Mendes (ICMBio)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact In February 2017 Filipe Franca was asked to attend ICMBio stakeholders meeting to provide expert advice, drawing on the findings from the AFIRE project. The participants were researches from different institutions operating within the Tapajós National Reserve; representatives of the local university; NGOs; leaders from local indigenous community and the cooperative logging company.The main outcome was the revision of the Management Plan of the FLONA-Tapajós Reserve, modifying the parts of the plan related to biodiversity conservation, sustainable development of local communities and research within the reserve.
 
Title Avifauna occurrence data from a longitudinal experiment in human-modified Amazonian forests affected by the 2015-16 El Niño drought and associated fires 
Description This data set includes longitudinal occurrence of bird species at 36 forest plots - half of which burned during the 2015-16 El Niño drought - distributed across a gradient of prior human disturbance in the Brazilian Amazon. Data was collected in 2010 and 2016 (around 6 years before, and one year after the 2015-16 El Niño, respectively) as part of the projects 'Assessing ENSO-induced Fire Impacts in tropical Rainforest Ecosystems' (AFIRE) and 'Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning in degraded and recovering Amazonian and Atlantic Forests' (ECOFOR), within the NERC Human-Modified Tropical Forest (HTMF) programme. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Description Presentation at the ECOFOR end-of-project meeting: Joice Ferreira/ Erika Berenguer/ Filipe Franca - Outreach in the Amazon 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The ECOFOR end-of-project meeting took place in November/ December 2017. It was a great opportunity for the meeting participants to present their findings and discuss future collaborations. J. Ferreira, F. Franca and E. Berenguer presented about outreach strategies in the Amazon undertaken as a part of the ECOFOR, BIO-RED and AFIRE projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://ecofor.hmtf.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/NEWSLETTER19.pdf
 
Description Agricultural Fair in Santarém 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In August 2016 we disseminated our findings at the Agricultural Fair (Feira Agropecuária) in Santarém, where we set up an expositional stand. It was a great opportunity to present our research to the general public, as well as to boost our existing communication with local landowners and practitioners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ecofor.hmtf.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/NEWSLETTER12.pdf
 
Description Lancaster University Press Release: A new study on impoverishment of Amazonian biodiversity through selective logging 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Lancaster University published on their website a press release covering F. Franca's and J. Barlow's latest publication "Identifying thresholds of logging intensity on dung beetle communities to improve the sustainable management of Amazonian tropical forests". The Lancaster University is accessed by a huge number of students and general public each day. The press release had therefore the potential of reaching a wide and varied public, informing them about our research and its results.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/articles/2017/reduced-impact-logging-still-harms-biodiversity-in-tro...
 
Description Lancaster University Press Release: Forest fires during droughts are major source of Amazonian carbon emissions 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lancaster University website published a press release entitled "Extreme droughts in the Brazilian Amazon are causing forest fires that release significant carbon emissions, reveals a new study in Nature Communications", drawing on our findings from the AFIRE projects. The press release reached a wide and diverse audience, informing about our research and its relevance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/articles/2018/forest-fires-during-droughts-are-major-source-of-amazo...
 
Description Presentation at XI Reunión Latinoamericana de Scarabaeidología 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact In October 2016, Filipe Franca presented the findings from our research at the XI Reunión Latinoamericana de Scarabaeidología in Lavras, Brazil. This is an annual event, attended by students, researchers and scientists working with dung beetles. Filipe Franca's presentation was well-attended and generated questions from the audience. In this way, it helped to disseminate our research and our methods amongst researchers working in related fields.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at the ATBC conference by Filipe Franca 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Filipe Franca delivered a presentation at the 54th Annual Meeting of the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation, one of the most significant events in the area of Conservation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation at the ECOFOR end-of-project meeting: Fernando Espirito Santo - Temporal and Spatial Distribution of Burn Scars in Tapajos National Forest 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The ECOFOR end-of-project meeting took place in November/ December 2017. It was a great opportunity for the project members to present their findings and discuss future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://ecofor.hmtf.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/NEWSLETTER19.pdf
 
Description Presentation at the ECOFOR end-of-project meeting: Filipe Franca - Biodiversity changes in human-modified forests after ENSO-mediated droughts and fires 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The ECOFOR end-of-project meeting took place in November/ December 2017. It was a great opportunity for the meeting participants to present their findings and discuss future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://ecofor.hmtf.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/NEWSLETTER19.pdf
 
Description Presentation at the ECOFOR end-of-project meeting: Jos Barlow - Biodiversity loss and regeneration 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The ECOFOR end-of-project meeting took place in November/ December 2017. It was a great opportunity for the project members to present their findings and discuss future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://ecofor.hmtf.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/NEWSLETTER19.pdf
 
Description Presentation at the ICMBio conference - Filipe Franca 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Filipe Franca delivered a presentation entitled "Impactos do manejo florestal madereiro na biodiversidade e funcionamento das florestas tropicais: Como aumentar a sustentabilidade do manejo florestal madeireiro?" at Instituto Chico Mendes (ICMBio), our partner organization. Filipe presented our findings from the AFIRE project on the relation between wood extraction and biodiversity and his talk was followed by numerous questions from the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presenting our results to three different indigenous groups in Brazil 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We visited three different indigenous communities and presented our findings from the ECOFOR and AFIRE projects. The visits were supported by our partner organization ICMBio and FUNAI (Governamental institution responsible for indigenous groups). The main outcome we could observe was how locals changed their perspective about research and what researchers do. The audience showed a great interest in the methods we use to understand environment and climate change as well as the impacts of fire on plants and animals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Second stakeholders meeting at Instituto Chico Mendes (ICMBio) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This meeting was organised by the ICMBio and FUNAI (Governamental institution responsible for indigenous groups). The meeting was an important step for gaining an access for the ECOFOR/AFIRE teams to visit the indigenous to present our results, explaining how these can be integrated in the practices of these communities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Video on dung beetle sampling methodology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact AFIRE researchers recorded a short video explaining the methodology of dung beetle sampling, developed within the frame of Rede Amazonia Sustentavel and adopted by AFIRE researchers. The video was placed on Youtube and had a considerable number of views. In this way we managed to inform wide audience about our research and its methodology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqwNi6na88s