The Flip Side of Bushfires: It’s Role in Creating Biodiversity

20 November 2020

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USA – Earlier this year, Australia and California experienced some of the worst bushfires or wildfires, reminding the entire globe of the severe consequences of climate change. However, people often forget the important role that fire has in the evolution of biodiversity.

Fire is one of the major factors that has shaped biodiversity on Earth for millions of years, according to a study. They keep ecosystems healthy by clearing dead flora that hinders new plants to grow. They also add nutrients back into the soil such as oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.

Other species even need fire for seeds to grow such as certain species of pine trees that protect their seeds in a thick pinecone that only fire can penetrate. How much an ecosystem is dependent on fire is called a fire regime – some ecosystems, like grasslands in Australia and Africa, need more fire while others need less fire, such as tropical forests for, biodiversity to thrive.

Natural Fires and Biodiversity

Researchers explain the importance of natural fires in the environment versus fires exacerbated by human activity in a study published in the journal Science. Due to human activity making climate change worse and man-made fires, ecosystems that have never been fire-prone have been affected, wrote the authors.

Although people have used fire to modify environments such as clearing land for new crops, combined with human activities such as burning fossil fuels, have drastically changed the pattern of fire all over the world. As a result, today’s fires harm biodiversity, ecosystems, and human health.

For example, converting grassland into farmland puts people in danger of fire-prone areas. Many urban growth projects are also building entire communities into fire-prone areas. These establishments have also hindered natural fires from burning, affecting the health of ecosystems that depend on fires for growth. The buildup of dead and dried up logs and leaves have also triggered fires to become more intense than they should be once these areas are hit.

International Fire Management

Perhaps one of the worst man-made fire activities is the illegal slash-and-burn agricultural method. These practices have brought extreme harm to tropical lands such as the Amazon and Indonesia which have low fire regimes.

Moreover, fires are threatening endangered species and may drive many to extinction. Some 4,400 terrestrial and freshwater species are threatened by the abundance and intensity of wildfires.

Connecting biodiversity data and predictive models of fires with drivers such as invasive species and urbanization are critical for effective fire management. Some solutions, the researchers propose, including reintroducing mammals that reduce fuels or plants with low-flammability.

Letting wildfires strategically burn under the right conditions is also important, such as Indigenous fire stewardship and other cultural burning practices that have existed for thousands of years, which help enhance biodiversity, the study noted. Furthermore, reducing concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions is needed to prevent fire events from becoming extreme.

Check out more news and information on Wildfires on Science Times.

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