Fire-induced loss of the world’s most biodiverse forests in Latin America

Image credit: L.M. Dávalos


Fire plays a dominant role in deforestation, particularly in the tropics, but the relative extent of transformations and influence of fire frequency on eventual forest loss remain unclear. Here, we analyze the frequency of fire and its influence on postfire forest trajectories between 2001 and 2018. We account for ~1.1% of Latin American forests burnt in 2002–2003 (8,465,850 ha). Although 40.1% of forests (3,393,250 ha) burned only once, by 2018, ~48% of the evergreen forests converted to other, primarily grass-dominated uses. While greater fire frequency yielded more transformation, our results reveal the staggering impact of even a single fire. Increasing fire frequency imposes greater risks of irreversible forest loss, transforming forests into ecosystems increasingly vulnerable to degradation. Reversing this trend is indispensable to both mitigate and adapt to climate change globally. As climate change transforms fire regimes across the region, key actions are needed to conserve Latin American forests.

Science Advances 7(33), eabd3357
Liliana M. Dávalos
Liliana M. Dávalos
Professor of Conservation Biology

I’m interested in how biology and the environment shape biodiversity in time and space.