Changing patterns of fire occurrence in proximity to forest edges, roads and rivers between NW Amazonian countries
Abstract. Tropical forests in NW Amazonia are highly threatened by the expansion of the agricultural frontier and subsequent deforestation. Fire is used, both directly and indirectly, in Brazilian Amazonia to propagate deforestation and increase forest accessibility. Forest fragmentation, a measure of forest degradation, is also attributed to fire occurrence in the tropics. However, outside the Brazilian Legal Amazonia the role of fire in increasing accessibility and forest fragmentation is less explored. In this study, we compared fire regimes in five countries that share this tropical biome in the most north-westerly part of the Amazon Basin (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil). We analysed spatial differences in the timing of peak fire activity and in relation to proximity to roads and rivers using 12 years of MODIS active fire detections. We also distinguished patterns of fire in relation to forest fragmentation by analysing fire distance to the forest edge as a measure of fragmentation for each country. We found significant hemispheric differences in peak fire occurrence with the highest number of fires in the south in 2005 vs. 2007 in the north. Despite this, both hemispheres are equally affected by fire. We also found difference in peak fire occurrence by country. Fire peaked in February in Colombia and Venezuela, whereas it peaked in September in Brazil and Peru, and finally Ecuador presented two fire peaks in January and October. We confirmed the relationship between fires and forest fragmentation for all countries and also found significant differences in the distance between the fire and the forest edge for each country. Fires were associated with roads and rivers in most countries. These results can inform land use planning at the regional, national and subnational scales to minimize the contribution of road expansion and subsequent access to the Amazonian natural resources to fire occurrence and the associated deforestation and carbon emissions.