In our modern era of larger, more destructive, and longer-lasting fires—called the Pyrocene—plants and animals quickly evolved to survive.
By synthesizing the vast body of research on rapid animal evolution in response to fire in a review published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution on July 19, a multidisciplinary group of ecological experts hopes to use what we already know to help develop conservation plans informed by evolution. In this way, they suggest, we can try to use the ways in which fire affects animals to protect vulnerable species—working with evolution instead of against it.
In response to climate change and land use changes, fire regimes—or the typical fire characteristics of a particular area, including severity, size, shape, and frequency-changing. “Every inch of terrestrial land that has vegetation and an ignition source has an associated fire regime, and in many ecosystems, fire is the primary agent of landscape change,” said the lead author Gavin Jones, an ecologist for the USDA Forest Service.
As a result, the authors write, vegetation patterns change, habitats morph, and species face “massive mortality and dispersal events,” meaning that the fires kill many individuals at a time and bring animals to new regions. , sometimes separate members of a population into different groups.
While field research shows many examples of fire-driven animal evolution already occurring, animal evolution in response to fire is often less well understood than the evolution that plants undergo. Jones and his team are thinking about what needs to be learned from compiling what we know about how wildfires affect animals. To find out, the authors reviewed nearly 100 papers to identify examples of animal evolution in response to fire—and to analyze and categorize the different ways in which this evolution might have occurred. .
“There is an incredible range of adaptations in fire animals. Evolution is happening—and will continue to happen—right before our eyes,” Jones said. “One of my favorite examples is the Melanophila beetle, which has evolved an infrared sensory pit that allows them to detect forest fires and safely engage in reproductive behaviors near active fires.”
In addition to the Melanophila beetle, Jones and his colleagues also refer to a number of observed changes in the species in response to fire, which are very diverse. The Australian frilled lizard, for example, hides in trees to escape fires, which is a behavioral adaptation. Some species, such as the bird called Temminck’s courser that lays eggs the same color as recently burned soil, have evolved by changing their basic biological characteristics.
“I enjoyed reviewing the literature on animal adaptation to fire, and I was surprised and excited to see the depth of that literature,” Jones said. “There are a lot of incredible researchers working in this area.”
Understanding the difference in how animal species evolve is important, the authors state, because it can enable more effective conservation efforts. For example, in some cases, artificially introducing fire into an ecosystem can help make species more resilient.
In one case cited by the authors, conservationists are considering using fire to help isolated populations of Boisduval’s blue butterflies in Yosemite National Park, California to become more genetically connected, enabling them to reproduce better and increasing their population size. While interventions like this may be effective for some species, they may not be good for all animals.
“We need to recognize that fire is not the only process that influenced evolution long ago,” the authors write. “We see the need to incorporate evolutionary thinking into methods for conserving populations under changing fire regimes, including recognizing the symptoms of fire insensitivity and identifying of potential fire savvy-traits that could be used for conservation. Pyrocene.”
Pyrocene fire-driven animal evolution, Trends in Ecology and Evolution (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2023.06.003 , www.cell.com/trends/ecology-ev … 0169-5347(23)00151-9
Citation: Understanding the ways animals evolve in response to fire can help conservation efforts (2023, July 19) retrieved on 19 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07 -ways-animals-evolving-response-efforts. html
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