Thursday, November 05, 2009

On Fire

Sawtooth National Forest, ID (2007)

There's a fascinating post by New York Times columnist and evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson about the role of fire in nature, particularly forests. Whereas many of us often think of fire as a destructive force that ruins forests and wilderness, Judson points out that fire spurs new growth and can reinvigorate an ecosystem - which makes perfect sense.

But here's what's more interesting: many species of plants and trees in fire-prone areas appear to have evolved to be highly flammable. That is, these plants have evolved to cause fires as the propagation of their species - and the destruction of the competition - is dependent on their ability to burn. Read about what Judson calls the "torch-me hypothesis" here.

(For those of you that want to keep reading, check out Judson's post on the impact of large predators - or the lack thereof - on an ecosystem.)

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Reminds me of Michael Pollan's book Botany of Desire. The apple tastes good, is portable, and has a core that we tend to throw out onto the ground and thereby plants itself in an entirely new area. Plants are pretty smart.