Fire is becoming a threat along with progressing climatic and land-cover changes, and is projected to increase in many parts of the world (EEA Report, 2012; Flannigan et al., 2013; IPCC, 2014). Moreover, scientists anticipate longer fire seasons in the future (Dello, 2017). However, those projections vary between different regions and ecosystems as the legacy of human activities on fire regimes is disrupting the information about natural ecosystem pathways (Vannière et al., 2016a). Along with biodiversity and ecosystem services losses, increased carbon emissions and other environmental impacts (Flannigan et al., 2013; PAGES, 2010), fires cause socio-economical losses and threats which directly affect populations, for example death of people, health problems, evacuations, higher insurance costs (Bowman et al., 2017). Landscape managers from across the world are currently being challenged to reintegrate disturbance processes into management and conservation plans, and are lacking information about past fire regimes (frequency, area burned, severity or intensity) and consequences of fires in different ecosystems (Gillson and Marchant, 2014). Historical information about fire regime changes can be acquired using different sources: from charcoal accumulated in sediments (lakes, peatlands, soil) to fire scarred trees (Conedera et al., 2009). Integration of past fire disturbance information into management plans and decision support tool can only be done through cooperation between scientists, ecosystems managers, practitioners and policymakers (EMPPs).
The interest of the Global Paleofire Working Group phase 2 (GPWG2; http://pastglobalchanges.org/ini/wg/gpwg2/intro; Vannière et al. (2016b)) is to understand fire dynamics connected with humans, vegetation and climate over a long-time scale (decadal to millennial scale). Integration of specialists working on paleofire from various ecosystems across the world is essential, therefore, in the last few years, GPWG2 organized a series of workshops to broaden the knowledge about fire regime changes, their causes and consequences (Daniau and Brücher, 2016; Feurdean and Vannière, 2017; Robertson et al., 2016; Vannière et al., 2014). The latest GPWG2 workshop took place in 10–14 October 2017 at the Station Biologique des Laurentides, and was organized by Olivier Blarquez (Université de Montréal) and Pierre Grondin (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Government of Quebec, Canada). The workshop gathered 24 scientists working on paleofires from boreal, temperate, Mediterranean and tropical ecosystems. The reason for the workshop was to explore the lessons from fire history records to support ecosystem management, and to identify current connections between scientists and ecosystem stakeholders. The main aim was to find new ways for paleofire experts to communicate with EMPPs by identifying a common vocabulary and developing a framework for the transfer of knowledge from paleofire research to management.
The workshop started with a warm welcome by organizers and presentation of the objectives of the workshop and was followed by a presentation session. The keynote lecture presented by Sylvie Gauthier (Canadian Forest Service) focused on boreal forest and ecosystem management, showing Canadian examples of integration of paleofire research into forest management. Then followed a series of talks intended to demonstrate how paleofire research already contributes to management planning in Québec and how communication between scientists and ecosystem stakeholders can effectively lead to integrated research. Those talks demonstrated that (1) policies need to take into account ecosystem history (Boucher et al., 2017) that can be (2) supplemented with long-term fire disturbance analyses and historical fire regime data (Hennebelle et al., 2018) and (3) integrated within a common ecological framework regularly used by ecosystem stakeholders (Grondin et al., 2014). This sequence requires communication and co-development of research questions between academics and EMPPs in order to acquire and then transfer scientific knowledge into operational management, and was taken as an example for subsequent discussion during the workshop.
Before the workshop, participants were asked to contact EMPPs from their regions and to submit to them a short questionnaire provided by organizers (Table 1). The aims of the questionnaire were to (1) gather the information about the awareness of EMPPs about the paleofire research, and (2) recognize ecosystem stakeholders needs (for example useful data type/format) for their decision support tools and management plans. Altogether, 15 respondents from four continents working in three different biomes and with broad professional background (i.e. from governmental organizations, forestry units or conservation agencies) answered the questionnaires (Table 2). Full answers to the questionnaires are provided as Supplementary Material (Supp. File 1). We discussed the output of the questionnaires in subgroups and later analysed problems in communication and cooperation between EMPPs and scientists. We identified four challenges that were underlined in all questionnaires from all analysed regions.
|Continent||Questionnaires answered||Biome of interest||Questionnaires answered||Institution||Questionnaires answered|
|Africa||2||Boreal forest||2||Conservation agency||3|
|Asia||2||Temperate region||5||Forestry unit||6|
|North America||3||Governmental organisation||2|
|Peatland restoration agency||1|
After the analysis of questionnaires, attendees discussed the influence of fire on different ecosystems: boreal, temperate, Mediterranean, tropical (savanna, rainforest). As the influence of fire is very different in each of the ecosystems and there are different projections for the future (e.g. more fires projected in boreal forest, but fewer fires in savanna) (Abbott et al., 2016; EEA Report, 2012; Flannigan et al., 2013), paleofire research question needs to be developed to answer management challenges at the landscape or regional scale. Also within those regions human impact needs to be integrated in those scenarios, for example at the Wildland Urban Interface human activities and livelihoods need to be integrated within fire management plans. In the Mediterranean, because of the very high population density, we can easily question is there yet a “safe space” for wildfire? (Moritz et al., 2014). Here paleofire researchers showed how human fire-practices since few millennia associated to land use triggered fire history and had a significant impact on land cover dynamics (Vannière et al., 2016a). Even if future conditions may have no analogues in the past, human-driven fire legacy has to be precisely described at the regional or local scale to be included in forest management plans.
Better management practices and conservation plans can be prepared only when scientific knowledge meets the interests and needs of ecosystem stakeholders willing to cooperate with paleoecologists. Our interviews with EMPPs and the analysis of questionnaires exposed certain problems in communication and coordination. Therefore, we propose a scheme of possible cooperation path between fire scientists and EMPPs (Figure 1). First of all, identification of a common language and areas for the future cooperation is necessary in order to establish a dialogue and transfer of knowledge from both scientists to EMPPs and vice versa. This would trigger discussions and enable fire scientists to understand the needs and expectations of EMPPs. Knowing those needs, scientists could provide reliable scientific paleofire data (including raw charcoal data, statistical analyses and fire-vegetation-human-climate relationships at spatial resolutions of EMPPs work), interpretation of past fire regime changes and then pertinent proxies and decision tools for practical use. Having this information gathered from fire scientists, EMPPs should be able to prepare better fire policies, management strategies and conservation or restoration plans.
The GPWG2 community is planning to develop such a program with paleofire calibration investment, database openness to all, but also enriched with interpreted paleofire products understandable by the great majority of EMPPs, and co-construction of projects that would integrate both scientific knowledge and management challenges often faced by EMPPs. Such research projects could serve as scientific investigations focused on answering key paleo- and ecological questions including work packages focused on practical use of the produced data sets in management or environmental planning. Moreover, the direct output of the workshop – the paleofire glossary – will be also published soon as a separate paper. The problematic expressions identified and discussed by paleofire researchers during the workshop will be further discussed and analysed together with EMPPs. We believe that the glossary will be a helpful tool in paleofire management worldwide, and will be translated into other languages for the use in the local scale.
The work of the GPWG2 continued through the organization of regional workshops covering ecosystems possessing different fire regimes and fire history (e.g. in Nairobi in July 2018, in London in September 2018). These workshops will help us to meet our goals of exploring specific ecosystems, local administration procedures and conservation strategies. The workshops will also give us an opportunity to promote the main product of the GPWG2 – the Global Charcoal Database (GCD; www.paleofire.org), a public freely accessible online database of sedimentary records of fire from all around the world. GCD is open to all scientists, EMPPs and the public and we would like to encourage paleofire researchers to upload their data to this database, which will make their work more visible within the fire community. Together, this will consolidate the individual efforts into regional and global syntheses of fire activity and recognition of broad-scale patterns of fire activity in centennial-to-multi-millennial time scales.
Paleofire and paleoecological research offer a unique time perspective allowing to assess long term ecosystem trajectories, which represents an underestimated potential of information for ecosystem management and conservation. Even though the integration of paleoecological data into management faces some difficulties (Barnosky et al., 2017; Birks, 2012; Vegas-Vilarrúbia et al., 2011), there already exist examples of successful application of paleoecology into site-based conservation decisions, mainly for defining reference conditions and management strategies in wetland restoration (Blundell and Holden, 2015; Chambers et al., 2013; McCarroll et al., 2017; Riedinger-Whitmore, 2016) or in shrubland and grassland ecosystems (Forbes et al., 2018) or in forest ecosystems (Hennebelle et al., 2018). However, this potential is not explored enough, for example, a respondent from Sweden underlined that “[long term knowledge of fire regime could be useful] in some areas at least, especially since it is getting warmer and the fire-weather is likely to get worse and fire regime is likely to change”. We call for increased openness and engagement of the paleofire scientific community and ecosystem stakeholders and their needs in order to introduce co-planning and co-development of sustainable management and nature conservation plans. Moreover, scientists ought to invest their time and efforts into education and promotion of paleofire and paleoecological studies, and underline the importance of this research fields to face the environmental challenges that ecosystem managers, practitioners and policymakers will meet in the near future. The issue of fire risks and consequences of fire disturbance in the future warmer world should be included in study programs not only in higher education (for example forestry or geography studies) but also during basic education in preliminary and secondary schools (for example during geography classes). Publicizing the disastrous effects of fires in media and informing the society on fire risks and ways to prevent fires will also rise public awareness on this topic. Informing the society is highly important because “most of the fires that we observe (>90%) is of anthropogenic origin (ignition, burning of rubbish in the forest)”, as underlined by a forester from Poland. Greater public engagement and awareness about the role of scientific studies in nature conservation and management could trigger public pressure on the government and funding agencies for helping to gaining funds for scientific studies focused on restoration, conservation, or mitigation of our environments.
The additional file for this article can be found as follows:Supplementary File 1
Questionnaires (created by workshop organizers) on the basis of which the conclusions of the workshops were drown. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/oq.44.s1
Informed consent was obtained from all questionnaire respondents for their responses being publicly disseminate during the workshop and in this paper without nominative identification. Additional informed consent was obtained from all individuals for whom identifying information is included in this article including the country of origin and the type of institution. Opinions expressed by questionnaire respondents remain their own view and do not necessarily represent the views of the manuscript authors.
This paper is a product of the Global Paleofire Working Group phase 2 (GPWG2; http://pastglobalchanges.org/ini/wg/gpwg2/intro). The workshop was funded by the Past Global Changes (PAGES) project and the University of Montreal. GPWG2 and the workshop were undertaken as part of the PAGES project, which in turn received support from the US National Science Foundation and the Swiss Academy of Sciences. On the behalf of all attendees, we would like to thank all the employees of the Station Biologique des Laurentides for their warm welcoming in the research station. We would like to express our gratitude to all stakeholders, managers and practitioners who took their time to answer the questionnaires on which we based our discussions during the workshop.
The authors have no competing interests to declare.
OB organized the GPWG2 workshop in Montreal, to which this report is referring. BV leads the GPWG2 activities and project. KM wrote the paper and prepared figure and tables together with BV and OB.
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