Forest fires. A view from Ecology

Juli G. Pausas

Book: Juli G. Pausas. 2012. Incendios Forestales. Catarata/CISC. 128 pp. ISBN  978-84-8319-714-1 (Catarata), 978-84-00-09492-8 (CSIC).

Book cover: Incendios forestales (Forest fires).

The area of science that studies the role of fire in ecosystems and organisms is called fire ecology, and this is the focus of this book. Fires that spread without human control, as it occurs in nature are called wildfires or forest fires. The term forest is associated with traditional land use classifications, where “forest” use includes any area not dedicated to agricultural or urban uses. Thus, the term “forest fires” refers to uncontrolled fires (either of natural or anthropic origin) that occur in terrestrial ecosystems, and propagated by whatever vegetation type (forest, savanna, scrub, grassland, wetland, bog, etc.). Therefore, forest fires, and by extension this book, not only refers to forests, as it has been sometimes interpreted, but any type of terrestrial ecosystem.

A great part of society thinks wildfires are related to natural disasters, dominating a negative perception of them, and sensationalism of the media contributes to this. However, as seen throughout this book, forest fires are part of nature and have shaped the diversity of our ecosystems for millions of years. There are fire regimes that are fully sustainable from the ecological point of view, while it is true that various changes caused by human activities (climate change, changes in the landscape, etc.) have generated fire regimes environmentally unsustainable. In addition, the large number of homes currently on our mountains, makes ecologically sustainable fire regimes become unsustainable from a socioeconomic point of view, generating conflicts in management. Fire ecology provides a scientific basis for improving knowledge and land management in environments where fires have a major role. It is well known that it is not possible to ensure the sustainable management of resources without a solid foundation on the processes involved. This book aims to provide some of these basic skills to students, teachers, managers and researchers interested in ecology, as well as nature lovers. The book, as fire, has a global dimension, and is not restricted to a particular area or ecosystem, although there is an emphasis conditioned by the author’s experience in ecosystems with Mediterranean climate. In any case, the book includes information on other environments, especially where drought warm environments plays an important role as a determinant of biodiversity.

The book is divided into five chapters. The first (A flammable world) explains basic concepts such as fire, different types of fire regimes and the relationship between fire and climate. The second chapter (Fires in history) gives a historical view of changing fire regimes, since the emergence of terrestrial vegetation in the Silurian to the present day, including the role of humans (traditional and modern cultures) in alter fire regimes. The third chapter (How plants survive fire?) analyzes the main functional features that characterize plants that live in environments with recurrent fires (mainly: regrowth, post-fire recruitment, pos-fire bloom, fire resistance structures, flammability). The fourth chapter (Strategies and evolutionary processes) analyzes the main strategies in some communities where fires are frequent (Mediterranean scrubland, tropical savannas) and discusses the role of fire in the assembly of communities, and species diversification. Finally, in the last chapter (Fire in a Changing World) fires are framed in the context of global change (not just climate), concluding with reflections on the management of our forests. A glossary can be found at the end of the book.

Given the importance of fire in ecosystems, this book aims to contribute ultimately to understand nature.


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