Fire and biodiversity

D.M.J.S. Bowman, B.P. Murphy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Evolutionary and ecological principles related to conservation in landscapes subject to regular fires are presented in this chapter by David M. J. S. Bowman and Brett P. Murphy. The Earth has a long history of landscape fire given: (i) the evolution of terrestrial carbon based vegetation; (ii) levels of atmospheric oxygen that are sufficient to support the combustion of both living and dead organic material; and (iii) abundant and widespread ignitions from lightning, volcanoes and humans. There is a clear geographic pattern of fire activity across the planet reflecting the combined effects of climate, vegetation type and human activities. Most fire activity is concentrated in the tropical savanna biome. Fire activity shows distinct spatial and temporal patterns that collectively can be grouped into "fire regimes". Species show preferences to different fire regimes and an abrupt switch in fire regime can have a deleterious effect on species and in extreme situations, entire ecosystems. A classic example of this is the establishment of invasive grasses, which dramatically increase fire frequency and intensity bringing a cascade of negative ecological consequences. Climate change presents a new level of complexity for fire management and biodiversity conservation because of abrupt changes in fire risk due to climate change and simultaneous stress on species. Further, elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration may result in changes in growth and fuel production due to changes in growth patterns, water use efficiency and allocation of nutrients. Numerous research challenges remain in understanding the ecology and evolution of fire including: (i) whether flammability changes in response to natural selection; (ii) how life-history traits of both plants and animals are shaped by fire regimes; and (iii) how to manage landscape fire in order to conserve biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConservation Biology for All
EditorsNavjot S. Sodhi, Paul R. Ehrlich
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780191720666, 9780199554232
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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