Fire & Traditional Knowledge
We examined the relationships between lightning-fire-prone environments, socioeconomic metrics, and documented use of broadcast fire by small-scale hunter-gatherer societies. Our approach seeks to re-assess human-fire dynamics in biomes that are susceptible to lightning-triggered fires. We quantify global lightning-fire-prone environments using mean monthly lightning and climatological flammability, and then compare how well those environments and socioeconomic variables (population density, mobility, and subsistence type) serve as predictors of observed broadcast fire use from the ethnographic data. We use a logistic model for all vegetated, forested, and unforested biomes. Our global analysis of human-fire-landscape interaction in three hundred and thirty-nine hunter-gatherer groups demonstrates that lightning-fire-prone environments strongly predict for hunter-gatherer fire use. While we do not maintain that lightning-fire-prone environments determine the use of fire by small societies, they certainly appear to invite its use. Our results further suggest that discounting or ignoring human agency contradicts empirical evidence that hunter-gatherers used fire even in locations where lightning could explain the presence of fire. Paleoecological research on fire and hypothesis testing using global fire modeling should consider insights from human ecology in the interpretation of data and results. More broadly, our results suggest that small-scale societies can provide insight into sustainable fire management in lightning-fire-prone landscapes.