Recurrent wildfires constitute a major selecting force in shaping the structure of plant communities. At the regional scale, fire favours phenotypic and phylogenetic clustering in Mediterranean woody plant communities. Nevertheless, the incidence of fire within a fire-prone region may present strong variations at the local, landscape scale. This study tests the prediction that woody communities on acid, nutrient-poor soils should exhibit more pronounced phenotypic and phylogenetic clustering patterns than woody communities on fertile soils, as a consequence of their higher flammability and, hence, presumably higher propensity to recurrent fire. Results confirm the predictions and show that habitat filtering driven by fire may be detected even in local communities from an already fire-filtered regional flora. They also provide a new perspective from which to consider a preponderant role of fire as a key evolutionary force in acid, infertile Mediterranean heathlands.
Ojeda, F., Pausas, J.G., Verdú, M. 2010. Soil shapes community structure through fire. Oecologia 163:729-735. [doi] [pdf]
The first author in the flammable, low fertility community.
One key difference between animals and humans is the use of fire; in fact, during the evolution, fire made us humans. For instance, cooking implied higher food energy, as well as an increased the diversity of available food (detoxifying effects of heating, etc…). Furthermore, cooking implied a delay in food consumption, which required the development of social abilities for the distribution of tasks within the group (e.g., collection, accumulation, cooking, defense, even stealing). These factors are thought to have prompted the evolution of large brains and bodies, small teeth, modern limb proportions, and other human traits, including many social aspects of human-associated behavior. However, the moment in which humans started to use fire is still debated. It is often believed that the rise of Homo erectus from its more primitive ancestors was fueled by the ability use fire.
Although the use and control of fire is a human trait, a recent study has demonstrated that chimpanzees have the ability to understand wildfires and predict their behavior (Pruetz & LaDuke 2010). Chimps calmly observed wildfires around them, predict their behaviour and move accordantly without any stress or fear. This suggest that the conceptualization of fire may be a old trait, in the hominids group.
To what extent current humans are losing this trait is another debate, but we may be better off at managing our fire-prone landscapes by learning from chimps!
- Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E. 2009. A burning story: The role of fire in the history of life. BioScience 59: 593-601 [doi] [pdf]
- Pruetz JD & TC LaDuke 2010. Reaction to fire by savanna chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at Fongoli, Senegal: Conceptualization of fire behavior and the case for a chimpanzee model. Am J Phy Anthropol (in press) [doi]
- Wrangham RW, Jones JH, Laden G, Pilbeam D, Conklin-Brittain NL. 1999. The raw and the stolen: Cooking and the ecology of human origins. Current Anthropol 40: 567–590.
- Control of fire by early humans [Wikipedia]
Good news: Sainsbury’s to pop new corks for wildlife. All of Sainsbury’s own-brand wines will be sealed with corks certified by the Forest Stewardship Council by the end of 2010 [see The Guardian, 31/Dec/2009]. Sainsbury is the third largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom. We hope other supermarkets and wine makers will follow this initiative.
Remeber that IUCN proposed ten things we all can do to save biodiversity [see], and one was to only drink wines with natural cork stoppers!
Cork oak (Quercus suber) is a WWF priority species, because it is one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species.
For more information on cork oak woodlands see the book Cork Oak Woodlands on the Edge, and the WWF Cork Oak Programme.