Fire ecology
Fire ecology

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

3.2 Benefitting from fire

Like plants, some animals benefit from the habitats generated by recurrent fires and may even be reliant on them. The new, high quality vegetation regrowth after fires serves as an important food source for many large mammalian herbivores. For example, sable antelope (Hippotragus niger, Figure 16) rely on post-fire regrowth to help cope with limited food availability during the dry season. This regrowth has been shown to be crucial for lactating females, in particular (Parrini and Owen-Smith, 2010).

A photo of a male sable antelope. A large predominantly black antelope with a white underbelly and white markings on the face. It has two long and slim backward curved horns and is standing in a savannah landscape.
Figure 16  Male sable antelope. Lactating females are reliant on new growth generated by fires.

Many birds, for example the southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvis, Figure 17) depend on fires by making extensive use of recently burned grassland for foraging for insects and other invertebrates.

The ibis is a bird about 75 cm long and weighs about 1 kg. It has glossy dark green plumage and feathers on its wings and shoulders are iridescent green with bronze and purple highlights. The head is bare of feathers. The bill is long and narrow and curved downwards and is adapted to pecking and probing the ground for food that includes insects, worms, snails and frogs as well as small reptiles and mammals that have died (usually in fires).
Figure 17  The southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus).

Migrating hummingbirds in tropical ecosystems rely on post-fire flowers to fuel migration (Contreras-Martinez and Santana, 1995) and the black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus, Figure 18) inhabits severely burned coniferous forests in North America where it feeds on beetle larvae and nests in trees recently killed by fire (Collard, 2015).

A medium-sized woodpecker has solid black plumage on its back that camouflages it against the bark of burnt trees. The chin, throat and belly are white. It has a long straight chisel-like bill that it uses to peel back the bark of burned trees and hunt for hidden insects and larvae.
Figure 18  The black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) feeds and nests in recently burned coniferous forests.

The black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) is highly dependent on burned coniferous forests in North America with abundant fire-killed trees. They feed primarily on wood boring beetle larvae which are abundant after the adult beetles have laid their eggs on trees killed by fire. It also nests in trees recently killed by fire (Collard, 2015).

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371