Paleofire studies frequently discount the impact of human activities in past fire regimes. Globally, we know that a common pattern of anthropogenic burning regimes is to burn many small patches at high frequency, thereby generating landscape heterogeneity. Is this type of anthropogenic pyrodiversity necessarily obscured in paleofire records because of fundamental limitations of those records? We evaluate this with a cellular automata model designed to replicate different fire regimes with identical fire rotations but different fire frequencies and patchiness. Our results indicate that high frequency patch burning can be identified in tree-ring records at relatively modest sampling intensities. However, standard methods that filter out fires represented by few trees systematically biases the records against patch burning. In simulated fire regime shifts, fading records, sample size, and the contrast between the shifted fire regimes all interact to make statistical identification of regime shifts challenging without other information. Recent studies indicate that integration of information from history, archaeology, or anthropology and paleofire data generate the most reliable inferences of anthropogenic patch burning and fire regime changes associated with cultural changes.
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