Climatic conditions exert an important influence on wildfire activity in the western United States; however, Indigenous farming activity may have also shaped the local fire regimes for millennia. The Fish Lake Plateau is located on the Great Basin–Colorado Plateau boundary, the only region in western North America where maize farming was adopted then suddenly abandoned. Here we integrate sedimentary archives, tree rings, and archeological data to reconstruct the past 1200 years of fire, climate, and human activity. We identify a period of high fire activity during the apex of prehistoric farming between 900 and 1400 CE, and suggest that farming likely obscured the role of climate on the fire regime through the use of frequent low-severity burning. Climatic conditions again became the dominant driver of wildfire when prehistoric populations abandoned farming around 1400 CE. We conclude that Indigenous populations shaped high-elevation mixed-conifer fire regimes on the Fish Lake Plateau through land-use practices.
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Anthropogenic climate change—combined with increased human-caused ignitions—is leading to increased wildfire frequency, carbon dioxide emissions, and refractory black carbon (rBC) aerosol emissions. This is particularly evident in the Amazon rainforest, where fire activity has been complicated by the synchronicity of natural and anthropogenic drivers of ecological change, coupled with spatial and temporal heterogeneity in past and present land use. One approach to elucidating these factors is through long-term regional fire histories. Using a novel method for rBC determinations, we measured an approximately 3500-year sediment core record from Lake Caranã in the eastern Amazon for rBC influx, a proxy of biomass burning and fossil fuel combustion. Through comparisons with previously published records from Lake Caranã and regional evidence, we distinguished between local and regional rBC emission sources demonstrating increased local emissions of rBC from ~1250 to 500 calendar years before present (cal yr BP), coinciding with increased local-scale fire management during the apex of pre-Columbian activity. This was followed by a regional decline in biomass burning coincident with European contact, pre-Columbian population decline, and regional fire suppression associated with the rubber boom (1850–1910 CE), supporting the minimal influence of climate on regional burning at this time. During the past century, rBCmore »
1. Fire is a powerful ecological and evolutionary force that regulates organismal traits, population sizes, species interactions, community composition, carbon and nutrient cycling and ecosystem function. It also presents a rapidly growing societal challenge, due to both increasingly destructive wildfires and fire exclusion in fire‐dependent ecosystems. As an ecological process, fire integrates complex feedbacks among biological, social and geophysical processes, requiring coordination across several fields and scales of study. 2. Here, we describe the diversity of ways in which fire operates as a fundamental ecological and evolutionary process on Earth. We explore research priorities in six categories of fire ecology: (a) characteristics of fire regimes, (b) changing fire regimes, (c) fire effects on above‐ground ecology, (d) fire effects on below‐ground ecology, (e) fire behaviour and (f) fire ecology modelling. 3. We identify three emergent themes: the need to study fire across temporal scales, to assess the mechanisms underlying a variety of ecological feedbacks involving fire and to improve representation of fire in a range of modelling contexts. 4. Synthesis : As fire regimes and our relationships with fire continue to change, prioritizing these research areas will facilitate understanding of the ecological causes and consequences of future fires and rethinking firemore »