The Wildland-Urban Interface in Europe: spatial patterns and associations with socio-economic and demographic variables

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The wildland – urban interface (WUI) is the zone where human settlements are in or near areas of fire-prone wildland vegetation. The WUI is widespread and expanding, with detrimental consequences to human lives, property, and neighboring ecosystems. While the WUI has been mapped in many regions, Europe does not have a high resolution WUI map to date. Moreover, while most WUI research has been focused on quantifying spatial and temporal patterns, little is known about the relationship between the WUI and the socioeconomic conditions that drive its formation. Here, we present the first high-resolution map of the European WUI and provide the first macro-scale analysis of the relationship between the WUI and some of its potential drivers. We found that the WUI covers about 7.4 % of Europe, but its extent varies considerably both across and within countries, with subnational WUI cover varying from nearly zero to almost 90 %. WUI cover is significantly related to socioeconomic variables such as GDP per capita, the proportion of the population above 65 years old, population density, road density, and the proportion of protected areas, but these effects are complex and interactive. This suggests that WUI drivers are likely to differ across and within countries, and hints about the importance of both top-down and local socioeconomic processes in driving the WUI. Our new WUI map can facilitate local as well as regional-scale wildfire risk and ecological assessments that inform policy and management decisions aimed at reducing the detrimental outcomes of the WUI in Europe.