Archive for October, 2009

New paper: Regeneration traits and phylodiversity

October 29th, 2009 No comments

Coca M. & Pausas J.G. 2009. Regeneration traits are structuring phylogenetic diversity in cork oak (Quercus suber) woodlands. J. Veget. Sci. 20: 1009-1015  [Wiley] [doi] [pdf]

  • Question: What factors determine the deviations from the relationship between species richness (which considers species as independent entities) and phylogenetic diversity (PD) (which considers species relatedness)? What are the implications for community composition and phylogenetic structure?
  • Location: Los Alcornocales Natural Park, in southern Iberian Peninsula (Spain).
  • Methods: We recorded all woody species and geographical features on 94 (20 m × 20 m) plots of cork oak woodlands. Disturbance information was obtained from the Park records; precipitation was estimated from local maps. PD was computed as the minimum total length of all the phylogenetic branches spanning the set of species on each site. Then, PD was regressed against species richness to test to what extent the unexplained variance in this relationship could be accounted for by environmental variables and disturbances, and against the representation of species with different regeneration strategies.
  • Results: Species richness and PD are strongly related; however, the remaining variability can be explained by: (1) precipitation and disturbance, and (2) the proportion of seeder species. Thus, the PD both of areas with low precipitation and high disturbance, and of areas with a high representation of seeder species, is lower than what would be expected from the species richness.
  • Conclusions: Regeneration traits are important in structuring plant community composition; specifically, they contribute to shaping biodiversity in Mediterranean ecosystems. Species richness tends to overestimate biodiversity in highly disturbed systems.
Fig3_resid-propP The relationship between the residuals from the phylodiversity-species richness regression, and the proportion of post-disturbance seeding species (P+; r= -0.560, p< 0.0001). Negative residuals indicate lower phylogenetic diversity than expected from species richness values, that is, a tendency for phylogenetic clustering.

Amazonia: The empty forest

October 27th, 2009 No comments

We all now about the over-exploitation and over-hunting in many ecosystems, including the Amazonian forests. Recently, travelling in Brazil I found some figures on the magnitude of the hunting in the Amazon, they are unbelievable:

Number of animals legally exported from one single port (Iquitos, a river port in the Peruvian Amazon) during 5 years (1962-1967):

183,664 – Monkeys
149,256 – Caiman species (Melanosuchus and Caiman)
67,575 – Capybaras (Hydrochaeris)
47,851 – Otter (Lutra)
2,529 – Giant otter (Pteronura)
61,499 – Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis = Felis pardalis)
9,565 – Margay (Leopardus wiedii = Felis wiedii)
5,345 – Jaguar (Panthera onca)
690,210 – Collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu = Tayassu tajacu)
239,472 – White-lipped Peccary, Tayassu pecari,
239,470 – Deer (Mazama)

Total > 1.6 millions of animals!

But, you need to add those that were hunted for local consumption (estimated to be as many as to those hunted for legally exporting, above), and those hunted illegally (estimated to be much more that those hunted legally). And this is only for one single port, for a only 5 years, and only for large mammals and caimans … (birds, turtles, lizards, etc… are also hunted). This strong defaunation of vertebrates has implication not only on animal biodiversity but it has also cascading effects on ecosystems (e.g., reducing predation, herbivory, dispersal of plants, etc.). [more info: R. Dirzo]

The Amazon is now a great place for any biologist, how would it be if it was not an empty forest!

MISR image of the Central Amazon showing the city of Manaus, the meeting-of-the-waters where the Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes merge.

Fenandéz, F. 2009. O poema imperfeito, 2on ed., UFPR editora.
Redford, K.H. 1992. The empty forest. BioScience, 42(6), 412–422.

The answer is blowing in the wind

October 23rd, 2009 No comments

Fire management is facing two extreme views (see a discussion and references in PDF):

  • Large fires are controlled by fuel, and are the consequence of the fire suppression policy (build-up of fuels). Thus to reduce fire danger, fuel control is needed (the patch mosaic model)
  • Large fires are controlled by climate (mainly severe droughts) and thus fuel management is of little relevance

A recent paper is conclusive in that in California, large chaparral fires are controlled by climate and they burn through a vegetation mosaic of differetn ages since fire, and thus in landscapes under severe weather conditions there is little hope fuel treatments will provide barriers to fire spread. Strong dry winds, Santa Ana winds, are driving many of the large chaparral fires (Figure below).

Keeley, J.E. and P.H. Zedler. 2009. Large, high intensity fire events in southern California shrublands: debunking the fine-grained age-patch model. Ecological Applications 19:69-94. [journal] [pdf] [brief for managers]


Santa Ana wind-driven fires (MODIS, 26 Oct 2003)

Fires in the Mediterranean basin: The question is weather these results also apply to other Mediterranean regions. The role of droughts in recent fires (e.g., see the 2007 European heat wave and the consequences on large fires in Greece and Croatia; Figures below) and the importance of dry winds in many fires (e.g., ponientes in eastern Spain) suggest that a similar process may be occurring in the Mediterranean basin, although due to the long and intense land use in this area, fuel structure may also need to be considered for understanding some past fire regime changes [pdf].

Temperature anomalies in Europe, summer 2007

Fires in Greece, summer 2007

Biodiversity and wine

October 22nd, 2009 No comments
IUCN propose ten things we all can do to save biodiversity [see], and one is to only drink wines with natural cork stoppers!

Cork stoppers do not pollute the environment (as opposite to plastic stoppers), but also their use save the Cork oak woodlands. These forests face a major threat: the growing use of plastic and metal substitutes for cork stoppers in wine bottles, cork’s main market. If the economic value of cork oak forests is not maintained cork oaks will be cleared for other land uses.

Cork oak (Quercus suber) is a WWF priority species, because it is one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species.

WWF cork oak programme

For more information on cork oak woodlands see the book Cork Oak Woodlands on the Edge, and the WWF Cork Oak Programme.

Ground fires in Tablas de Daimiel Nat Park

October 21st, 2009 No comments

Ground (peat) fires are rare in the Mediterranean basin, but here is an example, in a wetland that burns because drained for agricultural purposes. Overexploitation of water resources (illegal wells and canalisation of the rivers) has caused the water-table to drop, and made prone to burn. This is happening in a National Park classified as a UNESCO biosphere site and an EU protected area because of its birdlife …

  • Spanish wetlands shrouded in smoke as overfarming dries out peat,, 19 Oct 2009
  • EU Investigates Dried Up Spanish Wetland, Fox News (Ass. Press), 22 Oct 2009
  • Spanish wetland facing destruction as farming starves it of water,, 22 Oct 2009
  • More news

News in Spanish | Noticias:

  • Un insólito incendio subterráneo azota las Tablas de Daimiel, El País, 12 Oct 2009
  • Medio Ambiente admite que el daño en las Tablas ‘es irreversible’, El País, 13 Oct 2009
  • Trasvase de emergencia contra el incendio subterráneo de Daimiel, El País, 14 Oct 2009
  • El parque nacional de Las Tablas de Daimiel agoniza,, 18 Oct 2009
  • Hallado otro foco del fuego subterráneo de Daimiel, El Pais, 20 Oct 2009
  • Cuatro fuegos bajo Daimiel, El Pais, 31 Oct 2009
  • Greenpeace augura un “futuro agónico” a Las Tablas de Daimiel, Europa press, 7 Nov 2009
  • Salvemos las Tablas de Daimiel, CLM en Vivo [video]
  • Ecologistas rechazan el tasvase a Daimiel [video]
  • Más noticias.
  • Información previa sobre el estado del Parque, en El País, 1 Jun 2008

Tablas de Daimiel National Park: [wikipedia-EN | wikipedia-ES |  video ].

When talking about peat fires we remember the 1997 Indonesia fire which burned 8 million hectares and countless millions of people suffered from air pollution (see figure below). In that area there was abundant and thick peat (which is a very important carbon store) that was drained for land development and agriculture (e.g., palm oil production), making them prone to fire. As a consequence of burning this dry peat, the 1997 Indonesia fire emitted a vast amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Indeed, the growth rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled and reached the highest levels on record; it was equivalent to 13-40% of the mean annual global carbon emissions from fossil fuels yet it came from a small area of the globe (Page et al. 2002).

Air pollution over Indonesia and the Indian Ocean on October 22, 1997 (TOMS satellite instrument)

Certainly we need to preserve wetlands and peatlands, not only for their biodiversity value, but also for their role in the global carbon budget.

2009 Fires

October 16th, 2009 No comments

Some summaries for the 2009 wildfires in Mediterranean regions:

Glossaries of wildfire terms

October 15th, 2009 No comments

There are many glossaries for fire terms, here some examples, although most of them are quite incomplete in terms of fire ecology:

Wikipedia | US Nat Parks | National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) | FireWords | Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Thesaurus | FAO/GFMC | Virginia Dept. Forestry |

New book: cork oak ecology

October 14th, 2009 No comments
Cork Oak Woodlands on the Edge
Ecology, Adaptive Management, and Restoration

Editors: J. Aronson (CNRS, Montpellier),  J.S. Pereira (ISA, Lisbon),  J.G. Pausas (CSIC, Valencia)
Island Press, Washington DC, 2009
ISBN: 9781597264792 (paperback), 9781597264785 (hardcover)

More information: Book details and Table of Contents |  browse through the book (preprint version)  |  Google Books


Southern California Wildfires commented by Jon E Keeley

October 13th, 2009 No comments
  • Southern California Public Radio, Program: Patt Morrison –  August 31, 2009 [link]
  • Southern California Public Radio, Program: AirTalk – September 1, 2009 [link]
  • High Country News – September 4, 2009 [link]

New paper: The BROT plant trait database

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Paula S, Arianoutsou M, Kazanis D, Tavsanoglu Ç, Lloret F, Buhk C, Ojeda F, Luna B, Moreno JM, Rodrigo A, Espelta JM, Palacio S, Fernández-Santos B, Fernandes PM, and Pausas JG. 2009. Fire-related traits for plant species of the Mediterranean Basin. Ecology 90: 1420. [doi] [ESA journals] [Ecological Archives E090-094] [pdf]

Updated version of the BROT database at the BROT web page.

An older version of the BROT database is included in the TRY initiative.

New paper: A burning story

October 11th, 2009 No comments

Ecologists, biogeographers, and paleobotanists have long thought that climate and soils controlled the distribution of ecosystems, with the role of fire getting only limited appreciation. Here we review evidence from different disciplines demonstrating that wildfire appeared concomitant with the origin of terrestrial plants and played an important role throughout the history of life. The importance of fire has waxed and waned in association with changes in climate and paleoatmospheric conditions. Well before the emergence of humans on Earth, fire played a key role in the origins of plant adaptations as well as in the distribution of ecosystems. Humans initiated a new stage in ecosystem fire, using it to make the Earth more suited to their lifestyle. However, as human populations have expanded their use of fire, their actions have come to dominate some ecosystems and change natural processes in ways that threaten the sustainability of some landscapes.

Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E. 2009. A Burning Story: The role of fire in the history of life. BioScience 59: 593-601. [doicaliber | pdf | ppt slides | scribd]


Temporal position of key moments in the history of life (time in logarithmic scale) in relation to fire.

La ciencia española no necesita tijeras

October 7th, 2009 No comments


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