Fire, Rain and CO2: Potential Drivers of Tropical Savanna Vegetation Change, with Implications for Carbon Crediting

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Abstract

A global trend of increasing tree cover in savannas has been observed and ascribed to a range of possible causes, including CO2 levels, changing rainfall and fire frequency. We tested these explanations in the Australian tropical savanna, taking 96 savanna ‘cool burning’ projects from Australia’s emissions offset scheme as case studies. We obtained readings of tree cover and explanatory variables from published remote sensing or spatial data sources. These were analysed using time-series linear regression to obtain coefficients for the influence of severe fire occurrence, annual rainfall and prior percentage tree cover. Although statistically significant coefficients for the key variables were found in only half (severe fire) or one quarter (rainfall) of the individual project models, when comparing all the model coefficients across the rainfall gradient, ecologically coherent explanations emerge. No residual trend was observed, suggesting rising CO2 levels have not influenced tree cover over the study period. Our approach models tree cover change by separating ecological drivers from human-controlled factors such as fire management. This is an essential design feature of national emissions inventories and emissions offsets programs, where crediting must be additional to the expected baseline, and arise from human activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number465
JournalFire
Volume6
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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