Hot Topics and Burning Issues:
Fire as a Driver of System Processes – Past, Present, and Future

A PhD course organised jointly by:
The C.T. de Wit Graduate School for Production Ecology and Resource Conservation (PE&RC, Wageningen University), the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) / Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the United Nations University
30 March to 5 April 2008


Fire is one of humankind’s earliest tools and a key factor in the functioning of many ecosystems. In addition to local impacts, fire has cumulative and systemic effects at larger scales, such as emissions from land-use fires or wildfires that alter the chemical and radiative properties of the atmosphere. In many regions, fire is an integral part of nature, sustained by human activity and decisions. At the same time, it has an increasingly destructive impact in other regions, threatening human lives, health, property, and security, and sustainability of some ecosystems.

Research on fire has expanded greatly in recent years, supported by the development of new tools for studying fire and its effects. We now have a better understanding of the environmental, physio-chemical, and social dimensions of fire, including as a driver of ecosystem processes that has impacts at a range of spatial and temporal scales. Developments in remote sensing and GIS are providing new insights into the global extent, seasonality and frequency of burning, and the resulting changes in earth-surface properties and their repercussions on the global system. As a result, research output is proliferating and becoming more specialised, making it difficult to provide policy makers, planners and managers with coherent advice on the application, exclusion, or containment of fires in both natural and modified ecosystems.

Accordingly, various challenges lie ahead, such as:

  • Current frontiers and outstanding research issues to be tackled
  • Major uncertainties concerning the cumulative impacts of demographic, socio-economic and climatic changes on vegetation and fire regimes, and how might these be addressed
  • Consequences of replacement of natural fire regimes by human-adjusted fire regimes?
  • Development of a coherent view of fire considering its multi-facetted nature and the need for both multi- and interdisciplinary approaches in analyzing fire phenomena and problems
  • Development of an integrated policy framework for fire management

This one-week course introduces participants to current theories, thinking and practice in the field of fire science, and looks ahead to future developments and challenges, particularly in the context of global change. In addition to giving participants an overview of our current state of knowledge, it will introduce them to emerging issues and challenges in policy and management.

The course is meant for PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and staff for whom fire is either a specific focus of research or a factor in their studies, or for those who are looking at the influences and management of natural “disturbances” in social-ecological processes. The course will consist of lectures, discussion and group-work in which participants in detail focus on specific topics as:

  • Fire as both driver and disturbance of ecosystem processes
  • Interactive processes and outcomes: fire, herbivory, and decomposition
  • Learning to living with fire: practical policies and practices for fire management

Participants will have the opportunity to present and discuss their own work on fire and fire-related issues, and seek advice from the course presenters and others attending the course.


  • Welcome and introduction
  • Setting the scene: three narratives on fire (Stephen Pyne, Arizona State University, USA)


  • Fire and civilization: the history and consequences of human use of fire (Johan Goudsblom, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
  • Global extent of burning: the scale of a problem or a problem of scale? (Chris Justice, University of Maryland, USA)


  • Moulded by fire: species’ attributes, population processes, and community structure (William Bond, University of Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Fire and ecosystem processes: soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics, and soil carbon storage (Mary Scholes, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)


  • Excursion to sites in The Netherlands and Germany


  • Fire, atmospheric chemistry and global climate change (Guido van der Werf, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
  • Mediterranean fire ecology and regional climate change (José M. Moreno, University of Castilla-La Mancha, Toledo, Spain)


  • Integrated management of fire and fire-prone environments: options for global, regional, national and local responses (Johann Georg Goldammer, Global Fire Monitoring Center, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany / United Nations University)


  • Working groups activities and report back
  • Concluding discussion

General Information

Target group: PhD Group size: 45 participants

Course duration: 5 days

Language: English

Number of credits: 1.4 ECTS


  • Claudius van de Vijver (Fire Ecologist Wageningen University)
  • Professor Johann Goldammer (Fire Ecology Research Group,/ Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), Department of Forest and Environmental Science, Freiburg University, Germany/ United Nations University)
  • Professor Peter Frost (Fire specialist, New Zeeland)

Location: Wageningen, The Netherlands

Course Fees

Fee includes course materials, coffee, tea, lunches, field trip and dinners. Cost for Bed & Breakfast is not included (approx. € 70 per person per night extra):

  • PhD students from PE&RC, Freiburg, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and UNU: € 200
  • All other PhD students, and staff from PE&RC, Freiburg, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and UNU: € 500
  • All other participants: € 800

Information – Contact

Information – Contact

Claudius van de Vijver
C.T. de Wit Graduate School Production Ecology and Resource Conservation (PE&RC)
Wageningen Campus – De Born – ATLAS building
Droevendaalsesteeg 4
NL-6708 PB Wageningen
The Netherlands

Tel: +31(0)317-485116

Original website:


One of the few snapshots of lecturers: Coffee break talk Peter Frost, Johan Goudsblom and Steve Pyne. Photo: Johann Georg Goldammer.


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