IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON WILDLAND FIRE THREAT TO THE AMUR TIGER AND ITS HABITAT

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2008-05-09

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Global biodiversity is increasingly threatened by combined pressures from human- and climate-related environmental change. Projected climate change indicates that these trends are likely to continue and may accelerate by the end of this century leading to large scale modification of species habitats. Such modification will be amplified by an increase in catastrophic natural events such as wildland fire - one of the dominant disturbance agents in boreal and temperate forests of the Russian Far East (RFE). In the RFE, large fire events lead to abrupt, extensive, and long-term conversion of forests to open landscapes, thus considerably impacting the habitat of the critically endangered Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). A remotely sensed data-driven regional fire threat model (FTM) is developed to assess current and projected fire threat to the Amur tiger under scenarios of climate change. The FTM is parameterized to account for regional specifics of fire occurrence in the RFE and fire impacts on the Amur tigers, their main prey, and their habitat. Fire regimes are shown to be strongly influenced by anthropogenic use of fire and the monsoonal climate of the RFE, with large fire seasons observed during uncharacteristically dry years. Even with a large proportion of human ignition sources and periodic extreme events, fire currently poses a limited threat to the Amur tiger meta-population. The observed peaks in high fire threat conditions are localized in space and time and are likely to impact a small number of individual tigers. Under the wide range of the IPCC climate change scenarios, no considerable change in fire danger is expected by the mid-21st century. However, by the end of the 21st century under the A2 (regional self-reliance) scenario of the IPCC Special Report on Emissions, fire danger over the southern part of the RFE is predicted to increase by nearly 15%. An overlap of areas of likely increase in fire danger with areas of highest tiger habitat quality results in a 20% mean yearly increase in fire threat with a mean monthly increase of ~40% in August. The results have implications for conservation strategies aimed at securing long-term habitat availability.

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