Research Topic

Fire Regimes in Desert Ecosystems: Drivers, Impacts and Changes

About this Research Topic

Fire is generally not prevalent in deserts due to fuel limitations stemming from inherently low and/or patchy plant biomass and, therefore, it could be expected that fire adaptations in the biota are typically absent or poorly developed in such ecosystems. Exceptions, however, occur within some regions, such as where: 1) invasive grasses add to the fuel loads and/or their connectivity; 2) episodes of sustained above-average rainfall temporarily promote fuels and, thereby, fires (in contrast to mesic environments where fire is often associated with drought); 3) moister parts of landscapes develop greater biomass and denser vegetation (e.g. high altitudes sites, run-on areas); and 4) arid-adapted but fire-prone or fire-promoting life-forms dominate the landscape, e.g. spinifex (hummock) grasslands of Australia. Although semi-arid zones tend to experience more fires (and hotter and larger fires) than deserts (due to their higher and less erratic rainfall leading to denser and more continuous vegetation), they are of interest as they form a transitional zone between drought-driven and fuel-driven fire regimes. In addition to invasive species, other anthropogenic environmental changes operating at a range of scales (from local to global) are leading to altered fire regimes in arid lands. These environmental changes include increased atmospheric CO2 and associated climate change, and modifications of fuel and vegetation structure stemming from changes in herbivores and total grazing pressure.

There is a need to develop or improve our conceptual models and understanding of where and when fires occur in desert ecosystems, as well as to clarify the key environmental and human factors shaping past and contemporary fire regimes, including traditional burning practices that have shaped the biota in many regions. Further, we need to improve our ability to predict the effects of future environmental change on desert fire regimes and associated wildfire threat and behavior. Understanding variation in fire regimes across arid landscapes is important, especially where different vegetation types occur in response to soil and/or topographic patterning, as these present particular challenges for land managers. Lastly, the impact of modified fire regimes on desert life (flora, fauna & microbes) needs further exploration, both within systems with biota adapted to regular fire and those which lack such means to survive and/or regenerate after fire.

For this Research Topic, we welcome contributions which:

1) use innovative techniques or astute integration of evidence to provide new insights into fire regimes of deserts and their drivers;
2) document or predict changes in fire regime in response to global environmental change, regional policy changes or local factors;
3) quantify impacts of fire, regimes or change in regimes on desert biota; and
4) compare and contrast fire adaptations of desert ecosystems across the globe or with that of other ecosystems/biomes.

Although we are interested in covering the ecology of fire in arid and semi-arid lands broadly, we particularly seek studies focused on hot deserts (i.e. areas with aridity index <0.2, i.e. where annual pan evaporation is at least 5 times greater than annual rainfall, on average).


Keywords: Desert, Arid, Fire, Ecology, Functional Traits


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Fire is generally not prevalent in deserts due to fuel limitations stemming from inherently low and/or patchy plant biomass and, therefore, it could be expected that fire adaptations in the biota are typically absent or poorly developed in such ecosystems. Exceptions, however, occur within some regions, such as where: 1) invasive grasses add to the fuel loads and/or their connectivity; 2) episodes of sustained above-average rainfall temporarily promote fuels and, thereby, fires (in contrast to mesic environments where fire is often associated with drought); 3) moister parts of landscapes develop greater biomass and denser vegetation (e.g. high altitudes sites, run-on areas); and 4) arid-adapted but fire-prone or fire-promoting life-forms dominate the landscape, e.g. spinifex (hummock) grasslands of Australia. Although semi-arid zones tend to experience more fires (and hotter and larger fires) than deserts (due to their higher and less erratic rainfall leading to denser and more continuous vegetation), they are of interest as they form a transitional zone between drought-driven and fuel-driven fire regimes. In addition to invasive species, other anthropogenic environmental changes operating at a range of scales (from local to global) are leading to altered fire regimes in arid lands. These environmental changes include increased atmospheric CO2 and associated climate change, and modifications of fuel and vegetation structure stemming from changes in herbivores and total grazing pressure.

There is a need to develop or improve our conceptual models and understanding of where and when fires occur in desert ecosystems, as well as to clarify the key environmental and human factors shaping past and contemporary fire regimes, including traditional burning practices that have shaped the biota in many regions. Further, we need to improve our ability to predict the effects of future environmental change on desert fire regimes and associated wildfire threat and behavior. Understanding variation in fire regimes across arid landscapes is important, especially where different vegetation types occur in response to soil and/or topographic patterning, as these present particular challenges for land managers. Lastly, the impact of modified fire regimes on desert life (flora, fauna & microbes) needs further exploration, both within systems with biota adapted to regular fire and those which lack such means to survive and/or regenerate after fire.

For this Research Topic, we welcome contributions which:

1) use innovative techniques or astute integration of evidence to provide new insights into fire regimes of deserts and their drivers;
2) document or predict changes in fire regime in response to global environmental change, regional policy changes or local factors;
3) quantify impacts of fire, regimes or change in regimes on desert biota; and
4) compare and contrast fire adaptations of desert ecosystems across the globe or with that of other ecosystems/biomes.

Although we are interested in covering the ecology of fire in arid and semi-arid lands broadly, we particularly seek studies focused on hot deserts (i.e. areas with aridity index <0.2, i.e. where annual pan evaporation is at least 5 times greater than annual rainfall, on average).


Keywords: Desert, Arid, Fire, Ecology, Functional Traits


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

10 August 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

10 August 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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