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Fire ecology
Fire ecology

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2 Adaptation of plants in fire-prone ecosystems

Wildfires underpin the dynamics and diversity of many ecosystems worldwide to the extent that some species are dependent on recurrent fires for their existence. This is particularly true of many species of plants that show a diverse array of fire-adaptive traits that allow them to persist in ecosystems subjected to recurrent fires, and are often dependent on fires – or more specifically a fire regime – for successful reproduction.

  • What are these types of plant communities called?

  • Fire climax communities – a climax community of vegetation that is maintained by periodic fires.

  • Recall a fire climax community that you have already come across.

  • South African Fynbos.

Flammable ecosystems differ greatly from one another in the mix of plants they support and also in the fire-adaptive traits of the plants present. This diversity is linked to differences in the fire regime. For example, plants in ecosystems that are subjected to crown fire regimes have very different vegetative and adaptive traits from those of plants found in ecosystems that are subjected to low intensity surface fire regimes. Conversely, plants in ecosystems subjected to similar fire regimes have similar vegetative and reproductive traits. Some of the adaptive traits characteristic of plant species subjected to different fire regimes are outlined in the next section.