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Ulex born to burn

November 9th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Recurrent fires are a strong evolutionary pressure shaping plants [1,2]. It has been hypothesized that in fire prone-ecosystems, natural selection has favoured the development of traits that enhance flammability [3]. Consistent with this idea, in a recent study [4] we found that Ulex parviflorus (Fabaceae) populations that inhabit in recurrently burn areas (HiFi populations) are more flammable than populations of this species growing in old-fields where the recruitment was independent of fire (NoFi populations). That is, HiFi plants ignite quicker, burn slower, release more heat and have higher bulk density than NoFi plants. Thus, it appears that repeated fires select for individuals with higher flammability, and thus driving trait divergence among populations living in different fire regimes. These results provide some field support for the ‘kill thy neighbour’ hypothesis [3], but they also highlighted the need for heritability studies to unambiguously demonstrate natural selection driven by fire. This study together with other studies recently commented in this blog [5, 6] are placing flammability as a fundamental trait in plant evolution.

Figure: Flammability experiments using an epiradiator [4].


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

[2] Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E. 2009. A burning story: The role of fire in the history of life. BioScience [doi | jstore | pdf]

[3] Bond, W. J. and J. J. Midgley. 1995. Kill thy neighbour: an individualistic argument for the evolution of flammability. Oikos 73:79-85.

[4] Pausas J.G., Alessio G., Moreira B., Corcobado G. 2012. Fires enhance flammability in Ulex parviflorus. New Phytologist 193:18-23 [doi | pdf]

[4′] Pausas J.G. & Moreira B. 2012. Flammability as a biological concept. New Phytologist 194: 610-613. [doipdf]

[5] Pausas JG. 2011. Australia born-to-burn: a phylogenetic approach. jgpausas.blogs.uv.es, 18/March/2011 [link]

[6] Pausas JG. 2011. Fire and evolution: Cretaceous fires and the spread of angiosperms. jgpausas.blogs.uv.es, 9/Sept/2011 [link]

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