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Concept: Vegetation


BACKGROUND: Traditional habitat knowledge is an understudied part of traditional knowledge. Though the number of studies increased world-wide in the last decade, this knowledge is still rarely studied in Europe. We document the habitat vocabulary used by Csango people, and determine features they used to name and describe these categories.Study area and methods: Csango people live in Gyimes (Carpathians, Romania). The area is dominated by coniferous forests, hay meadows and pastures. Animal husbandry is the main source of living. Data on the knowledge of habitat preference of 135 salient wild plant species were collected (2908 records, 44 interviewees). Data collected indoors were counterchecked during outdoor interviews and participatory field work. RESULTS: Csangos used a rich and sophisticated vocabulary to name and describe habitat categories. They distinguished altogether at least 142–148 habitat types, and named them by 242 habitat terms. We argue that the method applied and the questions asked (‘what kind of place does species X like?’) helped the often implicit knowledge of habitats to be verbalized more efficiently than usual in an interview. Habitat names were highly lexicalized and most of them were widely shared. The main features were biotic or abiotic, like land-use, dominant plant species, vegetation structure, successional stage, disturbance, soil characteristics, hydrological, and geomorphological features. Csangos often used indicator species (28, mainly herbaceous taxa) in describing habitats of species. To prevent reduction in the quantity and/or quality of hay, unnecessary disturbance of grasslands was avoided by the Csangos. This could explain the high number of habitats (35) distinguished dominantly by the type and severity of disturbance. Based on the spatial scale and topological inclusiveness of habitat categories we distinguished macro-, meso-, and microhabitats. CONCLUSIONS: Csango habitat categories were not organized into a single hierarchy, and the partitioning was multidimensional. Multidimensional description of habitats, made the nuanced characterization of plant species' habitats possible by providing innumerable possibilities to combine the most salient habitat features. We conclude that multidimensionality of landscape partitioning and the number of dimensions applied in a landscape seem to depend on the number of key habitat gradients in the given landscape.

Concepts: Dimension, Space, Domination, Vegetation, Livestock, Cartesian coordinate system, Ecological succession, Habitat fragmentation


Weathering on mountain slopes converts rock to sediment that erodes into channels and thus provides streams with tools for incision into bedrock. Both the size and flux of sediment from slopes can influence channel incision, making sediment production and erosion central to the interplay of climate and tectonics in landscape evolution. Although erosion rates are commonly measured using cosmogenic nuclides, there has been no complementary way to quantify how sediment size varies across slopes where the sediment is produced. Here we show how this limitation can be overcome using a combination of apatite helium ages and cosmogenic nuclides measured in multiple sizes of stream sediment. We applied the approach to a catchment underlain by granodiorite bedrock on the eastern flanks of the High Sierra, in California. Our results show that higher-elevation slopes, which are steeper, colder, and less vegetated, are producing coarser sediment that erodes faster into the channel network. This suggests that both the size and flux of sediment from slopes to channels are governed by altitudinal variations in climate, vegetation, and topography across the catchment. By quantifying spatial variations in the sizes of sediment produced by weathering, this analysis enables new understanding of sediment supply in feedbacks between climate, tectonics, and mountain landscape evolution.

Concepts: Earth, Sediment, Climate change, Erosion, Stream, Vegetation, Road, Geomorphology


Increased forest fire activity across the western continental United States (US) in recent decades has likely been enabled by a number of factors, including the legacy of fire suppression and human settlement, natural climate variability, and human-caused climate change. We use modeled climate projections to estimate the contribution of anthropogenic climate change to observed increases in eight fuel aridity metrics and forest fire area across the western United States. Anthropogenic increases in temperature and vapor pressure deficit significantly enhanced fuel aridity across western US forests over the past several decades and, during 2000-2015, contributed to 75% more forested area experiencing high (>1 σ) fire-season fuel aridity and an average of nine additional days per year of high fire potential. Anthropogenic climate change accounted for ∼55% of observed increases in fuel aridity from 1979 to 2015 across western US forests, highlighting both anthropogenic climate change and natural climate variability as important contributors to increased wildfire potential in recent decades. We estimate that human-caused climate change contributed to an additional 4.2 million ha of forest fire area during 1984-2015, nearly doubling the forest fire area expected in its absence. Natural climate variability will continue to alternate between modulating and compounding anthropogenic increases in fuel aridity, but anthropogenic climate change has emerged as a driver of increased forest fire activity and should continue to do so while fuels are not limiting.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Vegetation, Solar variation, Global warming, Anthropogenic, Scientific opinion on climate change


Time series of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from multiple satellite sensors are crucial data to study vegetation dynamics. The Land Long Term Data Record Version 4 (LTDR V4) NDVI dataset was recently released at a 0.05 × 0.05° spatial resolution and daily temporal resolution. In this study, annual NDVI time series that are composited by the LTDR V4 and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) NDVI datasets (MOD13C1) are compared and evaluated for the period from 2001 to 2014 in China. The spatial patterns of the NDVI generally match between the LTDR V4 and MOD13C1 datasets. The transitional zone between high and low NDVI values generally matches the boundary of semi-arid and sub-humid regions. A significant and high coefficient of determination is found between the two datasets according to a pixel-based correlation analysis. The spatially averaged NDVI of LTDR V4 is characterized by a much weaker positive regression slope relative to that of the spatially averaged NDVI of the MOD13C1 dataset because of changes in NOAA AVHRR sensors between 2005 and 2006. The measured NDVI values of LTDR V4 were always higher than that of MOD13C1 in western China due to the relatively lower atmospheric water vapor content in western China, and opposite observation appeared in eastern China. In total, 18.54% of the LTDR V4 NDVI pixels exhibit significant trends, whereas 35.79% of the MOD13C1 NDVI pixels show significant trends. Good agreement is observed between the significant trends of the two datasets in the Northeast Plain, Bohai Economic Rim, Loess Plateau, and Yangtze River Delta. By contrast, the datasets contrasted in northwestern desert regions and southern China. A trend analysis of the regression slope values according to the vegetation type shows good agreement between the LTDR V4 and MOD13C1 datasets. This study demonstrates the spatial and temporal consistencies and discrepancies between the AVHRR LTDR and MODIS MOD13C1 NDVI products in China, which could provide useful information for the choice of NDVI products in subsequent studies of vegetation dynamics.

Concepts: China, Yangtze River, Water vapor, Vegetation, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, Yellow River, Nanjing, Shanghai


Remote-sensing phenology detection can compensate for deficiencies in field observations and has the advantage of capturing the continuous expression of phenology on a large scale. However, there is some variability in the results of remote-sensing phenology detection derived from different vegetation parameters in satellite time-series data. Since the enhanced vegetation index (EVI) and the leaf area index (LAI) are the most widely used vegetation parameters for remote-sensing phenology extraction, this paper aims to assess the differences in phenological information extracted from EVI and LAI time series and to explore whether either index performs well for all vegetation types on a large scale. To this end, a GLASS (Global Land Surface Satellite Product)-LAI-based phenology product (GLP) was generated using the same algorithm as the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer)-EVI phenology product (MLCD) over China from 2001 to 2012. The two phenology products were compared in China for different vegetation types and evaluated using ground observations. The results show that the ratio of missing data is 8.3% for the GLP, which is less than the 22.8% for the MLCD. The differences between the GLP and the MLCD become stronger as the latitude decreases, which also vary among different vegetation types. The start of the growing season (SOS) of the GLP is earlier than that of the MLCD in most vegetation types, and the end of the growing season (EOS) of the GLP is generally later than that of the MLCD. Based on ground observations, it can be suggested that the GLP performs better than the MLCD in evergreen needleleaved forests and croplands, while the MLCD performs better than the GLP in shrublands and grasslands.

Concepts: Ratio, Vegetation, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, Time series, Remote sensing, Singular spectrum analysis, Leaf Area Index, Phenology


The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is the area where houses and wildland vegetation meet or intermingle, and where wildfire problems are most pronounced. Here we report that the WUI in the United States grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010 in terms of both number of new houses (from 30.8 to 43.4 million; 41% growth) and land area (from 581,000 to 770,000 km2; 33% growth), making it the fastest-growing land use type in the conterminous United States. The vast majority of new WUI areas were the result of new housing (97%), not related to an increase in wildland vegetation. Within the perimeter of recent wildfires (1990-2015), there were 286,000 houses in 2010, compared with 177,000 in 1990. Furthermore, WUI growth often results in more wildfire ignitions, putting more lives and houses at risk. Wildfire problems will not abate if recent housing growth trends continue.

Concepts: United States, Poverty in the United States, Vegetation, New York City, Yellowstone National Park, Wilderness, Wildfire, Wildland-urban interface


Urbanisation modifies landscapes at multiple scales, impacting the local climate and changing the extent and quality of natural habitats. These habitat modifications significantly alter species distributions and can result in increased abundance of select species which are able to exploit novel ecosystems. We examined the effect of urbanisation at local and landscape scales on the body size, lipid reserves and ovary weight of Nephila plumipes, an orb weaving spider commonly found in both urban and natural landscapes. Habitat variables at landscape, local and microhabitat scales were integrated to create a series of indexes that quantified the degree of urbanisation at each site. Spider size was negatively associated with vegetation cover at a landscape scale, and positively associated with hard surfaces and anthropogenic disturbance on a local and microhabitat scale. Ovary weight increased in higher socioeconomic areas and was positively associated with hard surfaces and leaf litter at a local scale. The larger size and increased reproductive capacity of N.plumipes in urban areas show that some species benefit from the habitat changes associated with urbanisation. Our results also highlight the importance of incorporating environmental variables from multiple scales when quantifying species responses to landscape modification.

Concepts: Habitat, Urban area, Habitats, Vegetation, Landscape ecology, Natural landscape, Orb-weaver spider, Habitat fragmentation


Wildfire activity in boreal forests is anticipated to increase dramatically, with far-reaching ecological and socioeconomic consequences. Paleorecords are indispensible for elucidating boreal fire regime dynamics under changing climate, because fire return intervals and successional cycles in these ecosystems occur over decadal to centennial timescales. We present charcoal records from 14 lakes in the Yukon Flats of interior Alaska, one of the most flammable ecoregions of the boreal forest biome, to infer causes and consequences of fire regime change over the past 10,000 y. Strong correspondence between charcoal-inferred and observational fire records shows the fidelity of sedimentary charcoal records as archives of past fire regimes. Fire frequency and area burned increased ∼6,000-3,000 y ago, probably as a result of elevated landscape flammability associated with increased Picea mariana in the regional vegetation. During the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA; ∼1,000-500 cal B.P.), the period most similar to recent decades, warm and dry climatic conditions resulted in peak biomass burning, but severe fires favored less-flammable deciduous vegetation, such that fire frequency remained relatively stationary. These results suggest that boreal forests can sustain high-severity fire regimes for centuries under warm and dry conditions, with vegetation feedbacks modulating climate-fire linkages. The apparent limit to MCA burning has been surpassed by the regional fire regime of recent decades, which is characterized by exceptionally high fire frequency and biomass burning. This extreme combination suggests a transition to a unique regime of unprecedented fire activity. However, vegetation dynamics similar to feedbacks that occurred during the MCA may stabilize the fire regime, despite additional warming.

Concepts: Climate, Ecosystem, Vegetation, Steppe, Biome, Spruce, Taiga, Tundra


Prior work shows western US forest wildfire activity increased abruptly in the mid-1980s. Large forest wildfires and areas burned in them have continued to increase over recent decades, with most of the increase in lightning-ignited fires. Northern US Rockies forests dominated early increases in wildfire activity, and still contributed 50% of the increase in large fires over the last decade. However, the percentage growth in wildfire activity in Pacific northwestern and southwestern US forests has rapidly increased over the last two decades. Wildfire numbers and burned area are also increasing in non-forest vegetation types. Wildfire activity appears strongly associated with warming and earlier spring snowmelt. Analysis of the drivers of forest wildfire sensitivity to changes in the timing of spring demonstrates that forests at elevations where the historical mean snow-free season ranged between two and four months, with relatively high cumulative warm-season actual evapotranspiration, have been most affected. Increases in large wildfires associated with earlier spring snowmelt scale exponentially with changes in moisture deficit, and moisture deficit changes can explain most of the spatial variability in forest wildfire regime response to the timing of spring.This article is part of the themed issue ‘The interaction of fire and mankind’.

Concepts: Hydrology, Vegetation, Arson, Ecological succession, Wildfire, Slash and burn, Controlled burn, Conflagration


Across diverse ecosystems, greater climatic variability tends to increase wildfire size, particularly in Australia, where alternating wet-dry cycles increase vegetation growth, only to leave a dry overgrown landscape highly susceptible to fire spread. Aboriginal Australian hunting fires have been hypothesized to buffer such variability, mitigating mortality on small-mammal populations, which have suffered declines and extinctions in the arid zone coincident with Aboriginal depopulation. We test the hypothesis that the relationship between climate and fire size is buffered through the maintenance of an anthropogenic, fine-grained fire regime by comparing the effect of climatic variability on landscapes dominated by Martu Aboriginal hunting fires with those dominated by lightning fires. We show that Aboriginal fires are smaller, more tightly clustered, and remain small even when climate variation causes huge fires in the lightning region. As these effects likely benefit threatened small-mammal species, Aboriginal hunters should be considered trophic facilitators, and policies aimed at reducing the risk of large fires should promote land-management strategies consistent with Aboriginal burning regimes.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Vegetation, Buffer solution, Buffer, Solar variation, Global warming