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Ecological Role of Fire in Forest Ecosystems. 1. Reduces probability of catastrophic fire 2. Nutrient input into soils 3. Control of insect pests 4. Control of tree pathogens 5. Maintains species diversity.

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Ecological role of fire in forest ecosystems l.jpg

Ecological Role of Fire in Forest Ecosystems

1. Reduces probability of catastrophic fire

2. Nutrient input into soils

3. Control of insect pests

4. Control of tree pathogens

5. Maintains species diversity

This project supported in part by the National Science Foundation. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.


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Fire reduces the probability of catastrophic fire

  • Historical fire regime

  • Altered with fire suppression

  • Increased tree density and ladder fuels

  • “Staircase effect”

  • Crown fires




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Nutrient input into soils

  • Soil nutrients are usually tied up in organic matter

  • Released in a pulse after fire

  • Increased availability to plants and soil microorganisms

  • Blackened soil increases rates of absorption of solar energy

  • High fire temperatures can volatilize some nutrients (e.g., nitrogen at >200 °C)


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Control of insect pests

USDA Forest Service

USDA Forest Service


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Control of insect pests

  • Some insect populations are apparently controlled by fire

  • High temperatures and smoke directly kill adults, larvae and eggs

  • Reduced tree density decreases susceptibility to insect attack

  • Insect pests can also influence fire regimes



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Control of tree pathogens

  • Spore germination inhibited by smoke in some fungi (e.g., annosus root rot)

  • Spread of Phellinus weirii (laminated root rot) inhibited by fire

  • Spores of Port Orford cedar root rot are killed by fire and fire spaces trees making transmission from one tree to another less likely

  • Dwarf mistletoe infestations are reduced by fire

  • Some pathogens are promoted by fire (e.g., Rhizina undulata)


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Maintain species diversity

  • Some forest types are fire-adapted



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Plant adaptations to fire

Serotinous cones

Resin production

Thick bark

Rapid growth from roots

Rapid colonization

National Park Service

Virginia Tech University: College of Natural Resources




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Inset: University of Wisconsin: Jean-Michel Ane, Ph.D.

National Park Service; Bryan Harry



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Maintain species diversity

  • Some forest types are fire-adapted

  • Impacts on wildlife


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National Park Service: Jim Peaco


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NCSR

Washington Biodiversity project

US Fish and Wildlife

Forestry Images: Terry L Spivey





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Kirtland’s warbler, jack pine and fire

Federally endangered species

Limited range in northern

Michigan in young jack pine

forests

Habitat maintained historically

by fire

Jack pine is fire-adapted

Decreased habitat due to

fire suppression


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US Geological Survey

The White House


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Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

USFWS: John and Karen Hollingsworth

Forestry Images: Michael Mengak


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Maintain species diversity

  • Some forest types are fire-adapted

  • Impacts on wildlife

  • Insect specialists


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Insect specialists

Melanophila beetle (flat-head borers)

  • breed in fire-damaged pines

  • eggs deposited below bark

  • larvae feed on cambium of newly

    killed trees

  • adults are attracted by

    heat and smoke

Flybrain online

Forestry Images: Petr Kapitola, State Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org



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Maintain species diversity

  • Some forest types are fire-adapted

  • Impacts on wildlife

  • Insect specialists

  • Habitat diversity


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The mosaic nature of wildfire creates habitat diversity

Biscuit Fire - 2002 Southwest Oregon and

Northern California

  • Did not burn – 19%

  • Low intensity – 41%

  • Moderately burned – 23%

  • Severely burned – 16%


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Preliminary Burn Severity Assessment

Biscuit Fire

Summer 2002

US Forest Service


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Mosaic nature of wildfire is determined by several factors

  • Variations in moisture levels of soil and fuel

  • Vagaries of wind and weather

  • Past land use history

  • Past fire history


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Maintain species diversity

  • Some forest types are fire-adapted

  • Impacts on wildlife

  • Insect specialists

  • Habitat diversity


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Ecological Role of Fire in Forest Ecosystems

1. Reduces probability of catastrophic fire

2. Nutrient input into soils

3. Control of insect pests

4. Control of tree pathogens

5. Maintains species diversity


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Photo Credits

  • Flybrain Online http://web.neurobio.arizona.edu

  • Forestry Images: Various Photographers www.forestryimages.org

  • National Park Service: Various Photographers www.nps.gov

  • NCSR – Wynn W. Cudmore PhD

  • Ron Austing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service www.fws.gov

  • The Nature Conservancy: Ronald L. Myers, PhD www.tncfire.org

  • The White House www.whitehouse.gov

  • University of Wisconsin: Jean-Michel Ane, Ph.D. www.agronomy.wisc.edu

  • US Fish and Wildlife: Various Photographers www.fws.gov

  • US Forest Service www.fs.fed.us

  • US Geological Survey www.biology.usgs.gov

  • USDA Agricultural Research Service: Scott Bauer www.ars.usda.gov

  • USDA Forest Service www.na.fs.fed.us

  • Virginia Tech University: College of Natural Resources www.cnr.vt.edu

  • Washington Biodiversity Project www.biodiversity.wa.gov


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