Modelling the ecological vulnerability to forest fires in mediterranean ecosystems using geographic information technologies

Environ Manage. 2012 Dec;50(6):1012-26. doi: 10.1007/s00267-012-9933-3. Epub 2012 Sep 29.


Forest fires represent a major driver of change at the ecosystem and landscape levels in the Mediterranean region. Environmental features and vegetation are key factors to estimate the ecological vulnerability to fire; defined as the degree to which an ecosystem is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of fire (provided a fire occurs). Given the predicted climatic changes for the region, it is urgent to validate spatially explicit tools for assessing this vulnerability in order to support the design of new fire prevention and restoration strategies. This work presents an innovative GIS-based modelling approach to evaluate the ecological vulnerability to fire of an ecosystem, considering its main components (soil and vegetation) and different time scales. The evaluation was structured in three stages: short-term (focussed on soil degradation risk), medium-term (focussed on changes in vegetation), and coupling of the short- and medium-term vulnerabilities. The model was implemented in two regions: Aragón (inland North-eastern Spain) and Valencia (eastern Spain). Maps of the ecological vulnerability to fire were produced at a regional scale. We partially validated the model in a study site combining two complementary approaches that focused on testing the adequacy of model's predictions in three ecosystems, all very common in fire-prone landscapes of eastern Spain: two shrublands and a pine forest. Both approaches were based on the comparison of model's predictions with values of NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), which is considered a good proxy for green biomass. Both methods showed that the model's performance is satisfactory when applied to the three selected vegetation types.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ecology
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Fires*
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Mediterranean Region
  • Trees*