Recent observations suggest that repeated fires could drive Mediterranean forests to shrublands, hosting flammable vegetation that regrows quickly after fire. This feedback supposedly favours shrubland persistence and may be strengthened in the future by predicted increased aridity. An assessment was made of how fires and aridity in combination modulated the dynamics of Mediterranean ecosystems and whether the feedback could be strong enough to maintain shrubland as an alternative stable state to forest.
A model was developed for vegetation dynamics, including stochastic fires and different plant fire‐responses. Parameters were calibrated using observational data from a period up to 100 yr ago, from 77 sites with and without fires in Southeast Spain and Southern France.
The forest state was resilient to the separate impact of fires and increased aridity. However, water stress could convert forests into open shrublands by hampering post‐fire recovery, with a possible tipping point at intermediate aridity.
Projected increases in aridity may reduce the resilience of Mediterranean forests against fires and drive post‐fire ecosystem dynamics toward open shrubland. The main effect of increased aridity is the limitation of post‐fire recovery. Including plant fire‐responses is thus fundamental when modelling the fate of Mediterranean‐type vegetation under climate‐change scenarios.