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What Species Benefit From Forest Fires?

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What Species Benefit From Forest Fires?

By Shardonae Williams

Forest fires can be destructive to life, property, and natural resources. The aftermath is often so harmful that it is hard to believe that the fires are a natural cleanse for the forest. 

You see, fires have been a part of maintaining the ecosystem for hundreds of years. So, the species within the forest learned how to adapt to the fires long ago.

There is no denying that animals are displaced during a forest fire. But we can also count on the burned ground returning in a better state for the inhabitants of the forest.

Now let’s take a look at the natural process of a forest fire and its effect on the mammal and plant species.

What Makes Forest Fires Beneficial To the Ecosystem?

When there is a fire in the forest we automatically think of the worst that could happen. Erosion. Landslides. Debris flows. Altered water quality. The list goes on!

But here we are going to discuss the positive effects on the ecosystem. Things such as the new growth that is seen shortly after a fire and how species depend on it for food. Forest fires may be dangerous, but they are necessary.

New Growth & New Soil

Like any other living system, the earth is remarkable at replenishing itself. It may be hard to accept that forest fires are a natural process of keeping the ecosystem healthy.

But here are a few reasons why:

  • Fires return nutrients to soil quickly
  • Fires open up dense areas
  • Fires help maintain meadow habitats
  • Fires help clear dead, weak, or disease-ridden trees
  • Fires rid the forest floor of competing vegetation

All in all, forest fires help to improve the wildlife habitat. According to the National Geographic Society, “Several plants require fire to move along their life cycles.

For example, seeds from many pine tree species are enclosed in pine cones that are covered in pitch, which must be melted by fire for the seeds to be released. Other trees, plants, and flowers, like certain types of lilies, also require fire for seed germination”. This can be seen in the growth of new plant species and the removal of the non-native plant species. As well as the growth of the mammal species who return after the fires.

Species That Thrive

The forest is full of different species of plants and mammals that are affected by the fires. Yet all are prepared to flee or find shelter until the fire is over. Animals have a sense of sight, smell, and hearing that is more sensitive than we could imagine. Their senses allow them to always be aware of a fire that is nearby or beginning.

This also makes escaping a fire quite easy for most animals – no matter their size. After a few days, the burned soil will begin to sprout new growth – which contains thicker vegetation for several animal species to feed and live on.

The animals that seem to be vulnerable to the flames are those that are young, old, or injured. Small animals such as mice or rodents are often discovered after a fire dies down. But it is unlikely that a larger animal, such as a bear or a deer, will die in a forest fire. 

Some plant species depend on fire for survival as well. This is very true for the endangered plant species like the sandplain gerardia and the wood lily; both of these plants depend on the forest fires to multiply and grow.

These plants grow in areas where non-native invasive plants take over their habitat. The forest fires help to remove the invasive plants, such as the honeysuckle, which is a common weed, to allow space for the native plants to flourish.

Which Mammals Depend on Forest Fires?

Some species can withstand the destruction of forest fires more easily than others. They thrive on the new habitat and nutritious soil, while others struggle to adapt.

These mammals are often the species of animals that are used to controlled fire or natural fires. Why? It’s simple. Studies show that more animals make their homes in areas with high vegetation

Cottontail Rabbit

Cottontail rabbits are small mammals that live in burrows. They are a species that depend on the new growth produced after a fire for food. When a fire occurs they tend to ride out surface fires underground. This is only possible if the rabbit hole is airy.

Small mammals are often good at dealing with fires without being harmed. After the fires are over, many rabbits thrive in the areas affected by the fire. In these areas, they find more food and nesting grounds are at hand.

Mule Deer

Fires are important to maintaining the habitat of large mammals like mule deer. Deer are part of the small number of animals that can smell fire even when it’s miles away. This gives them the advantage to flee.

The fire or other disturbances result in a mosaic of grasses, forbs, and young or refresh shrubs. This helps them to thrive because their eating grounds become critical fat reserves.

Mule deer can gain forage quality, which would increase the body fat of bucks. Thus, making the mule deer less susceptible to dying in the winter because they have extra fat to absorb energy for the winter.

Which Plant Species Depend On Forest Fires?

Plant species can gain nutrients and space from forest fires. Like other inhabitants, plants have rivals that they have to compete with to stay alive. Forest fires help certain species to beat the invasive plants that are not native to the forest.

Which Plant Species Depend On Forest Fires?

Plant species can gain nutrients and space from forest fires. Like other inhabitants, plants have rivals that they have to compete with to stay alive. Forest fires help certain species to beat the invasive plants that are not native to the forest.

Sandplain Gerardia

Sandplain Gerardia plants react to fire positively. This species needs fire to reproduce and grow in their habitat.

According to Susi Ponce, a biologist in the Service’s Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, “Fire helps reduce the buildup of dead vegetation and woody vegetation that’s encroaching”. Sandplain Gerardia plants thrive in open areas.

If the vegetation isn’t taken care of the plant can become overcrowded and not grow. Forest fires help free up space from invasive species and activate dormant seeds of the Sandplain Gerardia plants.

Wood Lily

The Wood Lily is another endangered plant species that needs fire to reproduce and grow.  They can be found in moist open forest areas. Like the Sandplain Gerardia plant, the Wood Lily has to deal with invasive plant species that come from other places.

Forest fires help the Wood Lily to continue to grow with the new nutrients in the soil. But most importantly fires help lilies with seed germination.

How Can You Help Protect Plant and Animal Species?

We have discussed how forest fires are beneficial to the plant species, animal species, and the overall ecosystem. But let’s talk about some preventative measures to reduce unnecessary forest fires.

While forest fires can be caused naturally by lightning and spontaneous combustion, there are instances when humans are to blame. Here are a few ways to prevent forest fires by making a few lifestyle changes and advocating for the help of our elected officials.

Be Supportive of Control Burn Fires

A forest fire is bound to happen because it is a part of the forest’s natural cycle that periodically happens. But using planned or controlled fires are a safer option for the forest. This system helps animals, fish, and plant species to survive and thrive.

Prescribed fires are tried by professionals around bird nesting season, which gives animals enough time and ways to escape. The use of controlled fires also promotes ecological health and helps prevent larger and more damaging uncontrolled fires.

It may seem dangerous to start an intentional fire. But professional fire crews and managers use the animal’s natural habitats to determine how, when, and where to start the fire.

Advocate For Help

Habitat temperatures are drastically changing as the climate becomes hotter and drier. Other factors include fire suppression and forest management. Studies have shown that from 2000 to 2018, wildfires burned more than twice as much land per year than those from 1985 to 1999. To help prevent further fires we must ask our elected officials to implement fire resilient measures.

For example:

  • Measures to climate-proof our infrastructure-like our power grid
  • Measures to climate-proof our infrastructure
  • Reduction of global warming causing emissions

While vegetation helps to clear the forest floor there is a larger economic issue to consider as well. So continue to educate yourself with information about wildlife and preventative measures to help fight the rise of forest fires.

Author Bio: Shardonae Williams is a Creative Copywriter at Milestone Creative Agency, LLC. She founded the company to help entrepreneurs and organizations promote their vision for their business.

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