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Generalized fire strategies in plants and animals

October 4th, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

One of the unifying approaches in ecology is to search for common strategies, that is, to group species sharing mechanisms and responses to environmental factors and disturbances. Plant strategies to persist in fire-prone ecosystems (and the traits involved) are now quite well known [1]. However, less is known about fire strategies in animals, despite many fire-prone ecosystems harbor a very rich fauna [2]. This difference in knowledge is probably due to the intrinsic differences between plants (immobile) and animals (mobile) [2]. However, there is a demand for unifying plant an animals paradigms in order to better asses biodiversity in fire-prone ecosystems [3]. In a recent paper [4] I am providing an unifying framework by emphasizing the similarities between plants and animals in relation to the mechanisms for living in fire-prone ecosystems. To do so, I propose a very simple fire strategy scheme that should be valid for both plants and animals (Table 1). The advantage of having a unified framework of fire strategies include: (1) we can learn how species respond to fire from a great diversity of life forms; (2) animal and plant ecologists can benefit from shared expertise in fire responses (some common strategies in plants may be overlooked in animals, or vice-versa); (3) we could better predict changes in plant-animal interactions with fire regime changes, and (4) we could better assess and generalize the effects of fire on biodiversity. I hope this framework would facilitate finding knowledge gaps and directing future research for gaining a better understanding of the role of fire on biodiversity.

Table 1. Generalized mechanisms of species response to fire (strategy), their fire dynamics and persistence scale, and the prevalence for animals and plants in fire prone ecosystems (low, moderate, and high). The last column refers to the fire characteristics where this strategy is most likely to occur (‘high’ and ‘low’ refers to fire intensity). [4]

Fig. 1. The rhea (Rhea americana) has a cryptic coloration in postfire environments, when sitting in the ground, the neck cannot be differentiated from a burned stem. Photo: JG Pausas

 

Fig. 2. Charaxes jasius colonizing the middle of a burnt area 10 days after the wildfire that burned with very high intensity in NE Spain (note that only thick branches remained). Photo: JG Pausas.

References

[1] Keeley J.E., Bond W.J., Bradstock R.A., Pausas J.G. & Rundel P.W. 2012. Fire in Mediterranean Ecosystems: Ecology, Evolution and Management. Cambridge University Press. [the book]  

[2] Pausas J.G., Parr C.L. 2018. Towards an understanding of the evolutionary role of fire in animals. Evolutionary Ecology 32: 113–125. [doi | pdf]  

[3] Kelly L.T., Brotons L, Giljohann K.M., McCarthy M.A., Pausas J.G., Smith A.L. 2018. Bridging the divide: integrating animal and plant paradigms to secure the future of biodiversity in fire-prone ecosystems. Fire 1(2): 29. [doi | mdpi | pdf]  

[4] Pausas J.G. 2018. Generalized fire response strategies in plants and animals. Oikos [doi | wiley | pdf | oikosblog]

 

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