The influence of leaf morphology on litter flammability and its utility for interpreting palaeofire
Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
The Royal Society
Reason for embargo
Studies of palaeofire rely on quantifying the abundance of fossil charcoals in sediments to estimate changes in fire activity. However, gaining an understanding of the behaviour of palaeofires is also essential if we are to determine the palaeoecological impact of wildfires. Here I utilise experimental approaches to explore relationships between litter fire behaviour and leaf traits that are observable in the fossil record. Fire calorimetry was used to assess the flammability of 15 species of conifer litter and indicated that leaf morphology related to litter bulk density and fuel load, which determined the duration of burning and the total energy released. These data were applied to a fossil case study which couples estimates of palaeolitter fire behaviour to charcoal based estimates of fire activity and observations of palaeoecological changes. The case study reveals that significant changes in fire activity and behaviour likely fed back to determine ecosystem composition. This work highlights that we can recognize and measure plant traits in the fossil record that relate to fire behaviour and therefore that further research is warranted toward estimating palaeofire behaviour as it can enhance our ability to interpret the palaeoecological impact of paleofires throughout Earth’s long evolutionary history.
CMB acknowledges funding from a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship FILE-PIEF-GA-2009-25378 and a European Research Council Starter Grant ERC-2013-StG-335891-ECOFLAM that have both contributed to the development of ideas presented in this manuscript.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol 371: 20150163.