NOV 23, 2020 2:48 PM PST

Wildfires put 4,400 species at risk worldwide

An international collaboration between 27 researchers led by the University of Melbourne has concluded that over 4,400 species globally are under threat from fire activity. The study, titled, “Fire and biodiversity in the Anthropocene,” has been published in Science.

"Recent fires have burned ecosystems where wildfire has historically been rare or absent, from the tropical forests of Queensland, Southeast Asia, and South America to the tundra of the Arctic Circle," said lead author Dr. Luke Kelly, who is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Centenary Research Fellow. "Very large and severe fires have also been observed in areas with a long history of recurrent fire, and this is consistent with observations of longer fire seasons and predictions of increased wildfire activity in the forests and shrublands of Australia, southern Europe, and the western United States."

Amongst the threatened species are the orangutan in Indonesia and mallee emu-wren in Australia. According to Dr. Kelly, they also include “19% of birds, 16% of mammals, 17% of dragonflies, and 19% of legumes that are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. That's a massive number of plants and animals facing threats associated with fire."

With the bushfires raging across Australia pre-pandemic and the wildfires devastating California mid-pandemic, the threats from fire aren’t just hypothetical. From August 2019 to March 2020, a record 12.6 million hectares burned in Australia.

Photo: Pexels

Yet on the flip side of that, the absence of fires can also pose a threat to certain species. That’s the case with African herbivores like wildebeest that need expansive open areas to graze and migrate; fewer fires in the African savanna can actually inhibit those species due to the resulting overgrowth of shrubland.

These complexities make it imperative to look at the specific factors that are at play in regions around the world. "Understanding what's causing changes in different places helps us to find effective solutions that benefit people and nature," Dr. Kelly said.

In their analysis, the research team identified three main groups of human drivers that influence fire activity and their subsequent impacts on biodiversity: global climate change, land-use, and biotic invasions. Understanding fires from that perspective – where they are driven by anthropogenic activity – means that the state of fires in our world is ultimately in our own hands.

"It really is time for new, bolder conservation initiatives," Dr. Kelly said. "Emerging actions include large-scale habitat restoration, reintroductions of mammals that reduce fuels, creation of low-flammability green spaces, and letting bushfires burn under the right conditions. The role of people is really important: Indigenous fire stewardship will enhance biodiversity and human well-being in many regions of the world."

Sources: Science, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
FEB 09, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Scientists Spotlight Dangers of Ocean Noise Pollution
FEB 09, 2021
Scientists Spotlight Dangers of Ocean Noise Pollution
Many ocean species use sound to communicate and survive. Sound is a crucial communication method since vision is limited ...
FEB 18, 2021
Plants & Animals
Scientists Stumble Upon Life Below Ice Shelf
FEB 18, 2021
Scientists Stumble Upon Life Below Ice Shelf
In a discovery touted as a "fortunate accident," scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) stumbled u ...
MAR 09, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Farmers need more adaptation, not irrigation, say researchers
MAR 09, 2021
Farmers need more adaptation, not irrigation, say researchers
New research from Michigan State University advocates for soil management as a climate mitigation strategy for farmers. ...
APR 07, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Reevaluating methane emissions from aquatic ecosystems
APR 07, 2021
Reevaluating methane emissions from aquatic ecosystems
A study published recently in Nature Geoscience suggests the need to reconsider the sources of methane entering our atmo ...
APR 12, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Investigating how sea-ice thickness affects warming in Greenland's fjords
APR 12, 2021
Investigating how sea-ice thickness affects warming in Greenland's fjords
An investigation led by Stockholm University Assistant Professor Christian Stranne and published in Communications Earth ...
APR 15, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Tracking phytoplankton to understand nutrient stress in the oceans
APR 15, 2021
Tracking phytoplankton to understand nutrient stress in the oceans
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have developed a high-detail map to track phytoplankton in the ocean ...
Loading Comments...