Posts Tagged ‘postfire’

The cleaning effect of fire: Lizards & parasites

July 14th, 2021 No comments

Early humans and native cultures have used fire for clearing the ground from parasites and diseases, and some agricultural societies use fire to reduce livestock diseases [1,2]. In such cases, fire provide an ecosystem service to humans [2]. We recently asked to what extent this ‘cleaning effect‘ of fire is also observed in the wild, that is, whether wildfires may remove parasites and thus provide some benefits to wildlife [3]. To answer this question, we compared the presence of ecotoparasites (mites,Ophionyssus) in lizard populations of Psammodromus algirus living in recently burned areas with those in adjacent unburned areas, in eastern Spain. Our results suggest that many individuals of P. algirus survive fire (the smoke of the fire acts as a cue for quickly moving to safe microsites [4], e.g., crevices, under rocks, among roots; refugia [5]); and those that survived (and live in the postfire environment) have less ecotparasites (mites) than those living in unburned conditions. That is wildfires produce a ‘cleaning effect’ by reducing lizard ectoparasites in the postfire conditions. Fire, by disrupting the host-parasite interaction, provides a window of opportunity for lizards to avoid the negative effects of ectoparasites. We propose that wildfires likely fulfill a role in controlling vector-borne diseases and pathogens for other species, but this ecological effects have been largely overlooked.

Fig. 1. Probability of lizards infection by mites in relation to lizards’ size (snout-vent length) for recently burned areas (red) and for the corresponding paired unburned (blue). Lines are predicted values (and confidence intervals) from [3].
Fig. 2. Psammodromus algirus enjoying a clean (parasite-free) environment after a fire. Photo: Lola Álvarez-Ruiz
Fig. 3. Pictures of mites (genus Ophionyssus; in different stages) found under the scales of P. algirus, from [3]
Fig. 4. Art work on the paper by Josep Serra, 6/2021


[1] Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E. 2009. A burning story: The role of fire in the history of life. BioScience 59: 593-601 [doi | OUP | pdf]

[2] Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E. 2019. Wildfires as an ecosystem service. Front. Ecol. Environ. 17: 289-295. [doi | pdf]

[3] Álvarez-Ruiz L, Belliure J, Santos X., Pausas JG. 2021. Fire reduces parasite load in a Mediterranean lizard. Proceed. Royal Soc. B. [doi | pdfNew!

[4] Álvarez-Ruiz L, Belliure J, Pausas JG. 2021. Fire-driven behavioral response to smoke in a Mediterranean lizard. Behav. Ecol. [doi | oup | PDF]

[5] Pausas J.G. 2019. Generalized fire response strategies in plants and animals. Oikos 128: 147-153 [doi | pdf]

Pine serotiny

November 14th, 2020 No comments

Some days ago I asked this question on Twitter.

What is the difference between the top and bottom pine cones in this photo? This is a question I often ask to my new students in the first field trip; in this case, Beniardà fire, 2020 [link]

These cones are from Pinus halepensis and were collected after a wildfire in Beniardà (Alicante, E Spain; burned in Aug 2020).

Many of you reply correctly; here is the full answer:

Top cones: before the fire, they were open on on the tree, i.e., without seeds. Fire burn them, and so they are all black

Bottom cones (see also the picture below): before the fire they were closed (serotinous cones), and fire opened them facilitating seed dispersal. Note that they are unburned inside. These cones contribute to the postfire regeneration of the pine.

Serotinous cones in Pinus halepensis: before (left) and after a fire (right)



  • Lamont BB, Pausas JG, He T, Witkowski, ETF, Hanley ME. 2020. Fire as a selective agent for both serotiny and nonserotiny over space and time. Critical Reviews Plant Sci 39:140-172. [doi | pdf | suppl.]
  • Pausas JG. 2015. Evolutionary fire ecology: lessons learned from pines. Trends Plant Sci 20: 318-324. [doi | sciencedirect | cell | pdf]
  • Castellanos MC, González-Martínez S. & Pausas JG. 2015. Field heritability of a plant adaptation to fire in heterogeneous landscapes. Mol Ecol 24: 5633-5642. [doi | pdf | suppl.]
  • Hernández-Serrano A, Verdú M, González-Martínez SC, Pausas JG. 2013. Fire structures pine serotiny at different scales. Am J Bot 100: 2349-2356. [doi | amjbot | pdf | supp.]
  • Hernández-Serrano A, Verdú M, Santos-Del-Blanco L, Climent J, González-Martínez SC & Pausas JG. 2014. Heritability and quantitative genetic divergence of serotiny, a fire-persistence plant trait. Ann Bot 114: 571-577. [doi | pdf | suppl.]


More on serotiny: Serotiny: a review | Pinus brutia | Heritability of serotiny | Heritability of serotiny (2) | Evolutionary fire ecology in plants | Serotiny |

Postfire pollination resilience in Chamaerops humilis

July 18th, 2018 No comments

Fire may disrupt plant-animal interactions. In antagonistic interactions, this disruption may benefit one of the interacting species; for instance, the reduction of a seed predator after fire can benefit the host plant [1]. The question is what happen in mutualistic interactions? Does fire disrupt mutualistic interactions generating negative consequences for the interacting species?

The Mediterranean dwarf palm Chamaerops humilis is a small dioecious palm native to the coastal shrublands of the western Mediterranean Basin. It has a specialized nursery pollination system involving the weevil Derelomus chamaeropis (Curculionidae). The plant resprouts quickly after fires (from apical buds) and produces flowers the following spring [2]. Given the specialized nursery pollination systems, this plant is a good candidate to have their pollination disrupted by fire.

In a recent study [3] we found that after fire, their pollinator (the weevil), was strongly reduced, but the fruit set remained unchanged. We documented a second beetle, a sap beetle (Meligethinus pallidulus, Nitidulidae), that were not affected by fire and acted as an effective pollinator (in a non-nursery pollination system). The temporary replacement by a sap beetle at burnt sites – an effective pollinator that had gone unnoticed until now – provided postfire reproductive resilience. That is, fire does not disrupt pollination in this specialized plant-insect system.

This is an example of the “nature’s jazz hypothesis”, i.e., species have considerable scope and capacity to adapt to each other and their environments and thereby may impart far more resilience to environmental stressors and disturbances that was once thought [4].

The dwarf palm Chamaerops humilis is well adapted to recurrent shrubland fires (i.e., of high intensity). It resprouts quickly after fire from surviving apical buds; it has rhizomes from where new stems can emerge after disturbance (I suppose this is why Humboldt mentioned this species as a social palm [2]); and its pollination is not jeopardized by fire.

The mediterranean dwarf palm Chamaerops humilis flowering (male) 2 months after fire; Valencia region, Spain (photo: JG Pausas).



[1] García Y., Castellanos M.C. & Pausas J.G. 2016. Fires can benefit plants by disrupting antagonistic interactions. Oecologia 182, 1165–1173. [doi | pdf | post]

[2] Postfire resprouting of Chamaerops humilis,, 2016/03/18

[3] García, Y., Castellanos, M.C. & Pausas, J.G. 2018. Differential pollinator response underlies plant reproductive resilience after fires. Annals of Botany [doi | pdf]

[4] Schmitz, O. J. 2018. Species in ecosystems and all that jazz. – PLoS Biology 16: e2006285.

Update: paper now featured in Botany One: Plant-animal interactions deal with wildfires in unexpected ways

Odena: 9 meses posincendio

May 1st, 2016 No comments

El 27 de Julio de 2015 un incendio forestal afectó unas 1200 ha en Òdena (Anoia, Catalunya central), una zona dominada principalmente por pino carrasco (Pinus halepensis). Pocos días después ya se empezaba a ver un inicio de la regeneración del ecosistema [1, 2]. En una visita reciente (Abril 2016, 9 meses posincendio), vemos que en gran parte de la zona se han cortado y extraído los árboles quemados (y algunos no quemados). Antiguamente, cuando aun no se daba casi ningún valor a los ecosistemas naturales, y sí a la madera, se sacaban los árboles quemados para obtener algún beneficio económico; y algunas veces por motivos “estéticos”. Hoy en día, no parece una acción muy apropiada [3], a no ser que haya una razón de peso, cosa que desconozco en el caso de este incendio.

Los árboles quemados benefician a la regeneración porque retienen un poco el suelo, disminuyen el impacto de las gotas de lluvia en el suelo, mantienen cierta humedad, captan agua de la niebla, sirven de posadero para aves que traen semillas (que contribuyen a la regeneración), y son hábitat para fauna diversa [4]. Cortar los árboles requiere entrar con maquinaría en la zona quemada (con suelos muy sensibles), generar caminos y arrastrar troncos. Esto conlleva la eliminación de todos los beneficios mencionados, ademas de la disminución de parte del suelo y mantillo, la mortalidad de las primeras germinaciones posincendio (por ejemplo del pino), la formación de surcos que pueden ser puntos de inicio de erosión (cárcavas), y disminución de la regeneración natural en general. En general, entrar en una zona recién quemada, y degradar el ecosistema disminuyendo la regeneración y aumentando la erosión, está poco justificado [3]; en algunos casos, estas intervenciones pueden ser más perjudiciales que el propio incendio.

Fotos: a) Pinar con rebrotes de madroño 4 meses después del incendio, antes de cortar los árboles; se aprecia un cierto ambiente forestal. b) surcos del arrastre de troncos durante la extracción de la madera quemada. c) Ambiente 9 meses después del incendio, una vez se han cortado los árboles. d) Germinación de pino 4 meses después del incendio; germinaciones susceptibles a ser eliminadas si se entra con maquinaria o se arrastran troncos. e) pinos vivos (no quemados) cortados y apilados (9 meses posincendio). f) Enebro rojo (Juniperus oxycedrus) que rebrota tras quema y corta (9 meses posincendio). Incendio de Odena, Abril 2016 (fotos: JG Pausas).


[1] Odena fire: first visitors, 10-08-2015

[2] Odena fire: 55 days postfire, 17-10-2015

[3] Lo que no se debe hacer después de un incendio, 13-08-2015

[4] Pausas, J.G., Ribeiro, E. & Vallejo, R. 2004. Post-fire regeneration variability of Pinus halepensis in the eastern Iberian Peninsula. Forest Ecology and Management 203: 251-259. [doi | pdf]