Indonesia has experienced extensive land-cover change and frequent vegetation and land fires in the past few decades. We combined a new land-cover dataset with satellite data on the timing and location of fires to make the first detailed assessment of the association of fire with specific land-cover transitions in Riau, Sumatra. During 1990 to 2017, secondary peat swamp forest declined in area from 40,000 to 10,000 km2
and plantations (including oil palm) increased from around 10,000 to 40,000 km2
. The dominant land use transitions were secondary peat swamp forest converting directly to plantation, or first to shrub and then to plantation. During 2001–2017, we find that the frequency of fire is greatest in regions that change land-cover, with the greatest frequency in regions that transition from secondary peat swamp forest to shrub or plantation (0.15 km−2
). Areas that did not change land cover exhibit lower fire frequency, with shrub (0.06 km−2
) exhibiting a frequency of fire >60 times the frequency of fire in primary forest. Our analysis demonstrates that in Riau, fire is closely connected to land-cover change, and that the majority of fire is associated with the transition of secondary forest to shrub and plantation. Reducing the frequency of fire in Riau will require enhanced protection of secondary forests and restoration of shrub to natural forest.
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