Vegetatio

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 199–208 | Cite as

The evolutionary significance of fire in the mediterranean region

  • Z. Naveh
Article

Summary

Fire has played a decisive role in Post-Glacial biological and cultural evolution in the Mediterranean Region. Its evolutionary impact on plants has been manifested by feedback responses, in which the fire and its after-effects selected plants for physiological and other mechanisms that enable direct fire tolerance or permit avoidance followed by vegetative and reproductive regeneration.

The dominant, sclerophyll, drought-tolerant phanerophytes of the maqui are obligatory rootsprouters, whereas the subordinate, drought-evading chamaephytes, as well as herbaceous perennials, are both vegetative and reproductive regenerators and are well adapted to new, fire-denuded habitats. Annual and perennial grass fire-followers are also able to escape high surface fire temperatures with the aid of torsion devices on seeds. Evolutionary strategies to overcome fire are closely interwoven with those against other environmental stresses such as drought and grazing. These combinations of stresses have brought about convergence in plant form and function in mediterranean climates.

Fire has thus been important in the evolution of more xeric grasslands and woodlands and more mesic maqui and shrubland communities. Contrary to the present view of fire as simply destructive, both fire and grazing have favored genetical as well as ecological diversity. They should be studied as integral components of Mediterranean ecosystems and their evolution.

Keywords

Adaptation Ecological diversity Evolutionary strategies Fire Mediterranean region Regeneration Rootsprouters 

Résumé

Il est admis que le feu a joué un rôle décisif dans l'évolution biologique et culturale de l'époque postglaciaire dans la région méditerranéenne. Son impact sur l'évolution des plantes s'est manifesté par des réponses de ‘rétroaction’ (feedback). Dans celles-ci, les effets de l'élément feu et de ses répercussions ont effectué une sélection des plantes pour certaines activitées physiologiques et autres mécanismes, ce qui entraîne une tolérance directe au feu ou une protection et une régénération par voie végétative et reproductrice.

Les phanérophytes dominants du maquis, sclérophylles, tolérants à la sécheresse, présentent obligatoirement des rejets de souche, alors que les chaméphytes dominés fuyant la sécheresse aussi bien que les plantes herbacées vivaces se multiplient à la fois par voie végétative et reproductrice, et sont bien adaptés aux nouvelles habitats dénudés par les feux. Les herbes annuelles et vivaces qui suivent le passage des feux sont aussi capables d'échapper aux températures élevées des feux grâce à des mécanismes de torsion, oudes graines. Les tendances évolutives pour surmonter l'effet du feu sont étroitement liées à celles d'autres ‘contraintes’ (stresses) de l'environnement comme la sécheresse et la pression du pâturage. Certaines combinaisons des contraites ont entraîné une convergence de forme et de fonction.

Le feu a donc joué un rôle important dans l'évolution des pelouses plus xériques, des forêts, des maquis plus mésiques et des communautés d'arbustes. Contrairement au point de vue actuel sur le rôle destructeur du brûlage, le feu et le pâturage ont favorisé la diversité génétique aussi bien qu'écologique. Ils devraient être étudiés comme des composantes intégrantes des écosystèmes de Méditerranée et de leur évolution.

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Copyright information

© Dr. W. Junk b.v. - Publishers 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Z. Naveh
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Agricultural EngineeringTechnion — Israel Institute of TechnologyHaifaIsrael

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