Biological and geophysical feedbacks with fire in the Earth system
Van der Werf, GR
Environmental Research Letters
Institute of Physics (IoP)
© 2018 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI.
Roughly 3% of the Earth's land surface burns annually, representing a critical exchange of energy and matter between the land and atmosphere via combustion. Fires range from slow smouldering peat fires, to low-intensity surface fires, to intense crown fires, depending on vegetation structure, fuel moisture, prevailing climate, and weather conditions. While the links between biogeochemistry, climate and fire are widely studied within Earth system science, these relationships are also mediated by fuels—namely plants and their litter—that are the product of evolutionary and ecological processes. Fire is a powerful selective force and, over their evolutionary history, plants have evolved traits that both tolerate and promote fire numerous times and across diverse clades. Here we outline a conceptual framework of how plant traits determine the flammability of ecosystems and interact with climate and weather to influence fire regimes. We explore how these evolutionary and ecological processes scale to impact biogeochemical and Earth system processes. Finally, we outline several research challenges that, when resolved, will improve our understanding of the role of plant evolution in mediating the fire feedbacks driving Earth system processes. Understanding current patterns of fire and vegetation, as well as patterns of fire over geological time, requires research that incorporates evolutionary biology, ecology, biogeography, and the biogeosciences.
This work was a result of a National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCENT) catalysis meeting on ‘The co-evolution of plants and fire and consequences for the Earth system’November 2013. TH and BL acknowledge the support from the Australian Research Council (DP120103389), and BR acknowledges support from NASA ABoVE (NNX15AU56A). Sally Archibald was funded by the Friedel Sellschop award.
This is the final version of the article. Available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol 13: 033003