Fire is an ancient and recurrent disturbance factor in our planet and has been present since the origin of terrestrial plants . However, demonstrating whether fire has acted as an evolutionary force is not an easy task . In this context, the emerging discipline of evolutionary fire ecology aims to understand the role of wildfires in shaping biodiversity. In a recent review paper I summarize what we have learned on evolutionary fire ecology by studying the iconic genus Pinus . I suggest that the study of pines has greatly increased our understanding of the role of fire as an evolutionary pressure on plants.
Macro-evolutionary studies of the genus Pinus provide the oldest current evidence of fire as an evolutionary pressure on plants and date back to ca. 125 Million years ago (Ma). Micro-evolutionary studies show that fire traits are variable within and among populations, and especially among populations subject to different fire regimes. In addition, there is increasing evidence of an inherited genetic basis to variability in fire traits. Added together, pines provide compelling evidence that fire can exert an evolutionary pressure on plants and thus shape our biodiversity. In addition, evolutionary fire ecology is providing insights to improve the management of our pine forests under changing conditions. The lessons learned from pines may guide research on the evolutionary ecology in other taxa.
Figure: Example of trait divergence among populations living under different fire regime. Serotiny (as % of closed cones) in populations living under frequent crown fires (red boxes) and in populations where crown-fires are rare (green boxes) for two pine species, Pinus halepensis (Allepo pine, left) and P. pinaster (maritime pine, right).
 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: 406-411. [doi | sciencedirect | trends | pdf]