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Lizards smell wildfires

March 31st, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

The evolutionary role of fire in animals has been poorly explored [1]. We recently conducted an experiment with the mediterranean lizard Psammodromus algirus to evaluate a possible adaptive response to fire [2]. Specifically we tested whether detecting a fire by smoke is adaptive for lizards living in fire-prone ecosystems. To do so we collected lizards from habitats with contrasted fire regimes (fire-prone shrublands vs. non-fire-prone dunes) and exposed them to smoke and to a false smoke (control) in a terrarium. We video-recorded the behavioral reaction to the treatments, and determined whether each individual detected the smoke and the intensity of the reaction. We found that in populations from fire-prone habitats, more lizards reacted to smoke, and their behavioral response was more intense than in lizard populations from non-fire-prone habitats. Our results suggest that the enhanced response to smoke may have been selected as adaptive behavior in fire-prone habitats to increase survival. Smoke has been considered a very important cue for enhancing germination in plants [3]; now we show that is also a cue for fire avoidance in animals. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of smoke detection by reptiles in wild populations. 

Lizards’ behavioral response (seconds of activity in one minute) to the treatments (Control or Smoke) and habitat (Fire-prone or Non Fire-prone). Predicted values (filled symbols with confidence intervals) and data (light colored symbols). Species: Psammodromus algirus. From [2].


[1] Pausas JG, Parr CL 2018. Towards an understanding of the evolutionary role of fire in animals. Evol. Ecol. 32: 113–125. [doi | pdf]

[2] Álvarez-Ruiz L, Belliure J, Pausas JG. 2021. Fire-driven behavioral response to smoke in a Mediterranean lizard. Behavioral Ecol. [doi |oup | data:dryad | pdf]

[3] Keeley & Pausas 2018. Evolution of ‘smoke’ induced seed germination in pyroendemic plants. S. Afr. J. Bot. 115: 251-255. [doi | pdf];  Moreira & Pausas 2018. Shedding light through the smoke on the germination of Mediterranean Basin flora. S. Afr. J. Bot. 115: 244-250. [doi | pdf];  Tormo et al. 2014. Field evidence of smoke-stimulated seedling emergence and establishment in Mediterranean Basin flora. J. Veget. Sci. 25: 771-777. [doi| pdf];  Moreira et al. 2010. Disentangling the role of heat and smoke as germination cues in Mediterranean Basin flora. Ann. Bot. 105: 627-635. [pdf] [doi]

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