Fire ecology

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The Old Fire burning in the San Bernardino Mountains (image taken from the International Space Station)

Fire ecology is about the effects of fire on the ecosystems where it occurs. The effects are studied, and also the processes which cause the fires.

In many ecosystems, the occurrence of fire helps keep the habitat intact; examples of such habitats are the North American prairie and chaparral ecosystems, and the South African savanna. In these ecosystems, fire helps renew the habitat.[1][2] In such systems, many plants have adapted and require fire to germinate.

If the fires are suppressed, inflammable debris accumulates. This debris burns less often but, when it does, the wildfires will be larger and more destructive.

In the United States, campaigns have made people believe that wildfires are always harmful to nature. This is based on the outdated belief that ecosystems grow towards an equilibrium; disturbances, such as fires disrupts the harmony of nature. More recently, research has shown that in some ecosystems, fire plays an important role to make the system work properly; fire also helps biodiversity of many habitats. The organisms in these communities have adapted to withstand, and even to exploit, natural wildfire.

Three photos of the same forest region. The first features a central tree with other trees in the distance. A man and two mounted horses are seen at varying distances behind the central tree. The forest floor features low-lying vegetation such as grasses. The second and third photos feature the same central tree but with increasing amounts of trees in the mid- and foregrounds. The central tree is almost completely blocked from view in the third picture.
A ponderosa pine stand in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana in 1909, 1948, and 1989. The increase in vegetation density was attributed to fire prevention efforts since 1895.[3]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. California Chaparral Institute: Wildfire in the Chaparral . accessed 9/29/2010
  2. Brockway D.G., R.G. Gatewood and R.B. Paris. 2002. Restoring fire as an ecological process in shortgrass prairie ecosystems: initial effects of prescribed burning during the dormant and growing seasons. Journal of Environmental Management 65:135-152.
  3. Graham, et al., page 4