Research Topic

Understanding the flammability of our planet: the present day to the ancient past

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Our planet is inherently flammable. Earth’s forests and vegetation provide a vast source of fuel and wildfires consume huge quantities of vegetation in all of Earth’s modern biomes. The occurrence of large wildfires in recent years has brought the need to understand fire to the forefront of research. ...

Our planet is inherently flammable. Earth’s forests and vegetation provide a vast source of fuel and wildfires consume huge quantities of vegetation in all of Earth’s modern biomes. The occurrence of large wildfires in recent years has brought the need to understand fire to the forefront of research. Wildfires are expected to increase in severity and extent in the future. In order to provide empirical data for models we as a community need to have a thorough understand of all aspects of wildfire.

The ecology of fire describes the influence of wildfire, either detrimental or essential, to/for ecosystem health. This research area has seen major innovations in experimental approaches both on the laboratory scale and from field scale prescribed burns. Characterisation of the flammability of particular species and the effects of species composition on fire via interaction of species traits are beginning to be explored. Knowledge of the effect of plant traits on fires and their influence on an areas fire-regime can be used to assess the likely impacts of wildfire on alien plant invasion, below ground changes to flora and fauna, forest regeneration and carbon storage to name just a few.

This highlights that fuel type is of key importance to fire where evolution, extinction, extirpation and changes in the types of plants growing at a given location have influenced wildfire activity on our planet throughout its history. Different modern ecosystems have different flammable characters. Therefore the shifting of biomes and contractions and expansions of plant ranges have the ability to change the flammability of regions of our planet according to the types of plants that dominate in different locations.

Millions of tons of charcoal are generated annually by wildfires. Charcoal, the product of incomplete combustion has a high preservation potential in soils and sediments due to its highly inert nature. Analysis of charcoal and pollen records in rocks and sediments presents a versatile tool to study variations in the occurrence of past and modern wildfires in relation to ecosystem composition.

The aim of this research topic is bring together knowledge from this interdisciplinary research area to answer key wildfire questions covering a spectrum of ecosystems, vegetation types, fire-histories and methodological approaches. The topic will aim to present and explore frontier research that uses a plethora of approaches to spark new collaborations and ideas and enable us to build a more complete picture of the flammability of our ecosystems and the role that wildfire plays on our planet.


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