The influence of land-use activities and regional drought on historical fire regimes of Buryatia, Siberia

Erica R. Bigio, Thomas W. Swetnam, Christopher H. Baisan, Christopher H. Guiterman, Yegor K. Kisilyakhov, Sergey G. Andreev, Eduard A. Batotsyrenov, Alexander A. Ayurzhanaev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Every year, millions of hectares burn across Siberia, driven by a combination of warming temperatures, regional drought and human-caused ignitions. Dendrochronology provides a long-term context to evaluate recent trends in fire activity and interpret the relative influence of humans and climate drivers on fire regimes. We developed a 400 year record of fire-scarred trees from 17 sites in pine-dominated forests located southeast of Lake Baikal. Site-level mean fire return intervals (MFIs) ranged from 4 to 27 years for all fires and 8 to 35 years for widespread fires within sites. Sites with the lowest MFI values were located within 1 km of agricultural fields in grassland valleys, suggesting that agricultural burning influenced MFIs at nearby sites. Fire frequency varied over the record, with significantly high values around 1790, from 1865 to 1880, 1948 to 1955 and 1995 to 2005. The increased fire activity corresponded with migration waves to the region and major socio-economic change connected with the establishment and breakdown of the Soviet Union. At broader scales, superposed epoch analysis showed that synchronous fire years were associated with regional drought and precipitation deficits. Wet conditions for 2-3 years prior to the event year were also significant, suggesting that increased moisture promoted growth of understory fine fuels to support more extensive fires across the study area. Although fire frequencies increased during the 20th century, fire-climate relationships weakened, suggesting increased human-caused ignitions may override regional climate drivers. Our dataset presents a continuous record of frequent surface fires over the past 400 years, providing a valuable opportunity to compare dendrochronology-based reconstructions with satellite and documentary records.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number054043
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2022


  • Siberia
  • dendrochronology
  • fire history
  • fire-climate
  • frequent fire
  • tree rings
  • wildland fire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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