Recent studies have explored the use of simple correlative models to project changes in future burnt areas (BAs) around the globe. However, estimates of future fire danger suffer from the critical shortcoming that feedbacks on climate change effects on vegetation are not explicitly included in purely correlative approaches causing potential major unknown biases on BA projections. In a recent application of this approach led by Marco Turco and co-workers in the journal Nature Communications (doi:10.1038/s41467-018-06358-z), a simple correlative model was used to project an increase in future burnt areas for the Mediterranean region. The authors related BAs to regional estimates of cumulative drought surrogates, and later used this relationship to infer changes derived from future climate data. To account for negative climate-vegetation feedback on fire regimes, they used regional variability in the BA–drought relationship. The main assumption behind the approach used was that fire–drought relationships currently measured under a given productivity gradient (i.e., sensitivity of fire activity to dry periods is stronger in cooler/productive sites) can be consistently used to infer new relationships arising in the future. While representing a step forward in acknowledging the pitfalls of current projections of BAs, this short-cut falls short in allowing to account for the key process behind climate–vegetation-fire feedbacks. We argue that a series of mechanisms, ranging from the dynamic nature of fire–drought relationships to the human influences they experience, do not ensure that these relationships are to be maintained in the future with major, overall still unknown, consequences on future fire danger projections. Resolving this challenge will greatly benefit from the development of mechanistic approaches that explicitly consider the processes by which vegetation changes derived from climate influence fire regimes.
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