Human Pyrogeography: A New Synergy of Fire, Climate and People is Reshaping Ecosystems across the Globe

Christopher D. O'Connor, Gregg M. Garfin, Donald A. Falk, Thomas W. Swetnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Climate and fire have shaped global ecosystems for millennia. Today human influence on both of these components is causing changes to ecosystems at a scale and pace not previously seen. This article reviews trends in pyrogeography research, through the lens of interactions between fire, climate and society. We synthesize research on the occurrence and extent of wildland fire, the historic role of climate as a driver of fire regimes, the increasing role of humans in shaping ecosystems and accelerating fire ignitions, and projections of future interactions among these factors. We emphasize an ongoing evolution in the roles that humans play in mediating fire occurrence, behavior and feedbacks to the climate system. We outline the necessary elements for the development of a mechanistic model of human, fire and climate interactions, and discuss the role geographers can play in the development of sound theoretical underpinnings for a new paradigm of human pyrogeography. Disciplines such as geography that encourage science-society research can contribute significantly to policy discussions and the development of frameworks for adapting fire management for the preservation of societal and natural system priorities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-350
Number of pages22
JournalGeography Compass
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • General Social Sciences
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Atmospheric Science


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