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Modelling post-fire vegetation recovery in Portugal

Bastos A., Gouveia C.M., DaCamara C.C., Trigo R.M.
Biogeosciences, 8, 3593-3607, 2011, doi:10.5194/bg-8-3593-2011

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Abstract

Wildfires in Mediterranean Europe have been increasing in number and extension over the last decades and constitute one of the major disturbances of these ecosystems. Portugal is the country with more burnt area in the last decade and the years of 2003 and 2005 were particularly devastating, the total burned areas of 425 000 and 338 000 ha being several times higher than the corresponding average. The year of 2005 further coincided with one of the most severe droughts since early 20th century. Due to different responses of vegetation to diverse fire regimes and to the complexity of landscape structures, fires have complex effects on vegetation recovery. Remote sensing has revealed to be a powerful tool in studying vegetation dynamics and in monitoring post-fire vegetation recovery, which is crucial to landmanagement and to prevent erosion.
The main goals of the present work are (i) to assess the accuracy of a vegetation recovery model previously developed by the authors; (ii) to assess the modelís performance, namely its sensitivity to initial conditions, to the temporal length of the input dataset and to missing data; (iii) to study vegetation recovery over two selected areas that were affected by two large wildfire events in the fire seasons of 2003 and 2005, respectively.
The study relies on monthly values of NDVI over 11 years (1998-2009), at 1km x 1km spatial resolution, as obtained by the VEGETATION instrument. According to results from sensitivity analysis, the model is robust and able to provide good estimations of recovery times of vegetation when the regeneration process is regular, even when missing data is present. In respect to the two selected burnt scars, results indicate that fire damage is a determinant factor of regeneration, as less damaged vegetation recovers more rapidly, which is mainly justified by the high coverage of Pinus pinaster over the area, and by the fact that coniferous forests tend to recover slower than transitional woodlandshrub, which tend to dominate the areas following the fire event.