Wildfire is an understudied threat to biodiversity in many tropical landscapes, including island nations of the Pacific, such as The Republic of Palau—a global biodiversity hotspot with ridge-to-reef resources. Fires are known to occur on Palau’s main island of Babeldaob, where they can result in increased erosion rates and sediment delivery to near-shore areas with impacts to streams and coral reefs. Fire-adapted native plant species are found in savanna habitats, but fires often extend into adjacent forest areas where they kill overstory trees. To assess this serious biodiversity and human health threat, we mapped wildland fires on Babeldaob Island using ground-based surveys and aerial photographs between 2012 and 2015, and satellite imagery between 2012 and 2021. Data on causal factors, vegetation type, and the presence of invasive species were collected between 2012 and 2015, with hunting, arson, and agricultural clearing being the principal causes of ignitions. Wildfires occurred in all months and in all 10 states of Babeldaob, and both numbers of wildfires and total burned area were substantially greater during dry seasons, with the highest totals occurring in the one El Niño drought year in our record. Overall, wildfires appear to have a minor impact on forest vegetation because they are largely confined to savanna systems, but rainfall on burned savanna is a major cause of erosion and the sedimentation of streams and near-shore habitats.
Dendy, Julian; Mesubed, Dino; Colin, Patrick L.; Giardina, Christian P.; Cordell, Susan; Holm, Tarita; Uowolo, Amanda. 2022. Dynamics of anthropogenic wildfire on Babeldaob Island (Palau) as revealed by fire history. Fire. 5(2): 45. https://doi.org/10.3390/fire5020045.