Archive for April, 2014

Vive la différence!

April 20th, 2014 No comments

This post is a bit off the main topics of this blog, but I found an interesting study that I would like to share [1]. Using virtual reality tools, the authors of this study performed an experiment placing white people with a body of black people for about 12 minutes. They compared the results of a test for racial bias performed few days before the experiment with the results of the same test performed after the experiment, and found a clear reduction in the scores! I guess virtual reality could be a tool to increase empathy, and therefore respect to the difference. So perhaps racism is curable!


Figure:  Team of happy people working together (; top left), variability of the Cuban Polymita (top right) and variability of the Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis; bottom; source).

[1] Peck TC, Seinfeld S, Aglioti SM, Slater M. 2013. Putting yourself in the skin of a black avatar reduces implicit racial bias, Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 779-787. [doi].  More virtual experiments at:


Postfire blooming of Asphodelous

April 5th, 2014 No comments

The 4th of February, 2014, a forest fire burnt ca. 200 ha in Segorbe, near Valencia, eastern Spain. Two months later (1st April 2014), few plants had started to resprout, others had started to germinate, but there were three species that had resprouted very quickly and were already flowering: Asphodelous cerasiferus (= A. ramosus; Spanish: gamón), Iris lutescens, and Asparagus horridus; the first showed an spectacular blooming (pictures below).

Spectacular postfire bloom of Asphodelous cerasiferus in Segorbe, near Valencia, Spain (photos by MC Castellanos & JG Pausas, two months after fire).

Fire drives trait divergence: smoke-induced germination

April 3rd, 2014 No comments

There is an increasing evidence that recurrent fires are driving within species phenotypic variability, and that different fire regimes can generate trait divergence among populations [1]. For instance, populations of the annual species Helenium aromaticum (Asteraceae) growing under different fire histories in Chile have different seed traits in such a way that the anthropogenic increase in fire frequency selected for an increasing in seed pubescence [2]. In the Mediterranean Basin there is also evidence of phenotypic divergence among populations under different fire regimes: Ulex parviflorus (Fabaceae) plants living under high fire frequency are more flammable than those growing in sites that have not suffered fires [3-5]; Pinus halepensis and P. pinaster living under high crown-fire frequency have higher serotiny that those living in areas that rarely burn in crown fires [6]

A recent paper add further examples of this fire-driven trait divergence: Vandvik et al. show that smoke-induced germination is observed in populations of Calluna vulgaris (Ericaceae) from traditionally burnt coastal heathlands of Norway but it is lacking in populations from other habitats with infrequent fires [7]. The results are also consistent with the suggestion that smoke-induced germination is a fire adaptation [8-9].


Figure: Probability of germination of Calluna vulgaris in relation to time (days) since sowing for smoke-treated (pink) and control (grey) seeds, in coastal and inland heathlands of Norway. From Vandvik et al. 2014 [7].


[1] Pausas, J. G. and D. W. Schwilk. 2012. Fire and plant evolution. New Phytologist 193 (2). [doi | pdf | blog]

[2] Gómez-González S, Torres-Díaz C, Bustos-Schindler C, Gianoli E, 2011. Anthropogenic fire drives the evolution of seed traits. PNAS 108: 18743-18747. [doi blog]

[3] Pausas J.G., Alessio G., Moreira B. & Corcobado G. 2012. Fires enhance flammability in Ulex parviflorusNew Phytologist 193: 18-23. [doi | pdf | blog]

[4] Pausas J.G. & Moreira B. 2012. Flammability as a biological concept. New Phytologist 194: 610-613. [doi | wiley | pdf]

[5] Moreira B., Castellanos M.C., Pausas J.G. 2014. Genetic component of flammability variation in a Mediterranean shrub. Molecular Ecology 23: 1213-1223. [doi | pdf | suppl. | data:dryad | blog]

[6] Hernández-Serrano A., Verdú M., González-Martínez S.C., Pausas J.G. 2013. Fire structures pine serotiny at different scales. American Journal of Botany 100 (12): 2349-2356. [doi | amjbot | pdf | supp. | blog]

[7] Vandvik, V., J. P. Töpper, Z. Cook, M. I. Daws, E. Heegaard, I. E. Måren, and L. G. Velle. 2014. Management-driven evolution in a domesticated ecosystem. Biology Letters 10 (2): 20131082. [doi]

[8] Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E. 2009. A burning story: The role of fire in the history of life. BioScience 59: 593-601 [doi | jstor | BioOne | pdf | scribd | ppt slides | post]

[9] Keeley J.E., Pausas J.G., Rundel P.W., Bond W.J., Bradstock R.A. 2011. Fire as an evolutionary pressure shaping plant traits. Trends in Plant Science 16(8): 406-411. [doi | trends | pdf]


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