Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 2–3, pp 113–125 | Cite as

Towards an understanding of the evolutionary role of fire in animals

  • Juli G. PausasEmail author
  • Catherine L. Parr
Original Paper


Wildfires underpin the dynamics and diversity of many ecosystems worldwide, and plants show a plethora of adaptive traits for persisting recurrent fires. Many fire-prone ecosystems also harbor a rich fauna; however, knowledge about adaptive traits to fire in animals remains poorly explored. We review existing literature and suggest that fire is an important evolutionary driver for animal diversity because (1) many animals are present in fire-prone landscapes and may have structural and phenotypic characters that contribute to adaptation to these open landscapes; and (2) in some cases, animals from fire-prone ecosystems may show specific fire adaptations. While there is limited evidence on morphological fire adaptations in animals, there is evidence suggesting that different behaviors might provide a rich source of putative fire adaptations; this is because, in contrast to plants, most animals are mobile, unitary organisms, have reduced survival when directly burnt by fire and can move away from the fire. We call for research on fire adaptations (morphological, behavioral, and physiological) in animals, and emphasize that in the animal kingdom many fire adaptations are likely to be behavioral. While it may be difficult to discern these adaptations from other animal behaviors, making this distinction is fundamental if we want to understand the role of fire in shaping biodiversity. Developing this understanding is critical to how we view and manage our ecosystems in the face of current global and fire regime changes.


Adaptations Behavioral traits Evolutionary fire ecology Fire-fauna 



This research was funded by the project FILAS (CGL2015-64086-P) from the Spanish Government (Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad) and the PROMETEO/2016/021 project from the Valencia government (Generalitat Valenciana, Spain). CIDE (Desertification Research Centre) is a joint institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the University of Valencia, and Generalitat Valenciana. J.G.P. conceived the idea and wrote the manuscript; C.L.P. contributed to the writing of the final version. We declare no conflict of interest.


  1. Álvarez G, Ammagarahalli B, Hall DR, Pajares JA, Gemeno C (2015) Smoke, pheromone and kairomone olfactory receptor neurons in males and females of the pine sawyer Monochamus galloprovincialis (Olivier) (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae). J Insect Physiol 82:46–55CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen AN (1988) Immediate and longer-term effects of fire on seed predation by ants in sclerophyllous vegetation in south-eastern Australia. Aust J Ecol 13:285–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bernhardt P (1990) Pollination ecology of Oxalis violacea (Oxalidaceae) following a controlled grass fire. Plant Syst Evol 171:147–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berry LE, Lindenmayer DB, Dennis TE, Driscoll DA, Banks SC (2016) Fire severity alters spatio-temporal movements and habitat utilisation by an arboreal marsupial, the mountain brushtail possum (Trichosurus cunninghami). Int J Wildland Fire 25:1291–1302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bonta M, Gosford R, Eussen D, Ferguson N, Loveless E, Witwer M (2017) Intentional fire-spreading by “Firehawk” raptors in Northern Australia. J Ethnobiol 37:700–718CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boucher J, Azeria ET, Ibarzabal J, Hébert C (2012) Saproxylic beetles in disturbed boreal forests: temporal dynamics, habitat associations, and community structure. Ecoscience 19:328–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowman DMJS, Perry GLW, Higgins SI, Johnson CN, Fuhlendorf SD, Murphy BP (2016) Pyrodiversity is the coupling of biodiversity and fire regimes in food webs. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 371:20150169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Braithwaite RW (1987) Effects of fire regimes on lizards in the wet-dry tropics of Australia. J Trop Ecol 3:265–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carvalho KS, Alencar A, Balch J, Moutinho P (2012) Leafcutter ant nests inhibit low-intensity fire spread in the understory of transitional forests at the Amazon’s forest-savanna boundary. Psyche 2012:780713Google Scholar
  10. Chergui B, Fahd S, Santos X, Pausas JG (2018) Socioeconomics drive fire regime variability in the Mediterranean Basin. Ecosystems. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Christian KA, Morton SR (1992) Extreme thermophilia in a central Australian ant, Melophorus bagoti. Physiol Zool 65:885–905CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collard SB (2015) Fire Birds: valuing natural wildfires and burned forests. Bucking Horse Books, MissoulaGoogle Scholar
  13. Contreras Martínez S, Santana E (1995) The effect of forest fires on migratory birds in the Sierra de Manatlan, Jalisco, Mexico. In: Wilson MH, Sader SA (eds) Conservation of neotropical migratory birds in Mexico. Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, Maine, pp 113–122Google Scholar
  14. Cooper WE, Pyron RA, Garland T (2014) Island tameness: living on islands reduces flight initiation distance. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 281:20133019. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Corbett LK, Andersen AN, Müller WJ (2003) Terrestrial vertebrates. In: Andersen AN, Cook GD, Williams RJ (eds) Fire in tropical savannas. Springer, New York, pp 126–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Ronde CJ, Trollope WSW, Parr CL, Brockett B, Geldenhuys CJ (2004) Fire effects on flora and fauna. In: Goldammer JG, De Ronde CJ (eds) Wildlife fire management handbook for South Africa. Global Fire Monitoring Centre, FreiburgGoogle Scholar
  17. Dell J, O’Brien J, Doan L, Richards L, Dyer L (2017) An arthropod survival strategy in a frequently burned forest. Ecology 98:2972–2974CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Dröge E, Creel S, Becker MS, M’soka. J (2017) Risky times and risky places interact to affect prey behaviour. Nat Ecol Evol 1:1123–1128CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Edwards EJ, Osborne CP, Strömberg CAE, Smith SA, Consortium CG (2010) The origins of C4 grasslands: integrating evolutionary and ecosystem science. Science 328:587–591CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Ernst C, Boucher T, Sekscienski S, Wilgenbusch J (1995) Fire cology of the Florida box turtle, Terrapene carolina bauri. Herpet Rev 26:185–186Google Scholar
  21. Evans WG (1966) Perception of infrared radiation from forest fires by Melanophila acuminata de Geer (Buprestidae, Coleoptera). Ecology 47:1061–1065CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Evans WG (2010) Reproductive role of infrared radiation sensors of Melanophila acuminata (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) at forest fires. Ann Entomol Soc Am 103:823–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Forsman A, Karlsson M, Wennersten L, Johansson J, Karpestam E (2011) Rapid evolution of fire melanism in replicated populations of pygmy grasshoppers. Evolution 65:2530–2540CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Fox BJ (1982) Fire and mammalian secondary succession in an Australian coastal heath. Ecology 63:1332–1341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fuhlendorf SD, Engle DM, Kerby J, Hamilton R (2009) Pyric herbivory: rewilding landscapes through the recoupling of fire and grazing. Conserv Biol 23:588–598CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Fulton RE, Carpenter FL (1979) Pollination, reproduction and fire in Arctostaphylos. Oecologia 113:871–879Google Scholar
  27. Geffroy B, Samia DSM, Bessa E, Blumstein DT (2015) How nature-based tourism might increase prey vulnerability to predators. Trends Ecol Evol 30:755–765CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Gibbons P, Lindenmayer D (2002) Tree hollows and wildlife conservation in Australia. CSIRO Pub, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  29. Grafe TU, Döbler S, Linsenmair KE (2002) Frogs flee from the sound of fire. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 269:999–1003CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Guthrie RD (1967) Fire melanism among mammals. Am Midl Nat 77:227–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hancock MH et al (2011) Burning and mowing as habitat management for capercaillie Tetrao urogallus: an experimental test. For Ecol Manage 262:509–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Herzog NM, Parker CH, Keefe ER, Coxworth J, Barrett A, Hawkes K (2014) Fire and home range expansion: a behavioral response to burning among savanna dwelling vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops). Am J Phys Anthropol 154:554–560CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Hovick TJ, McGranahan DA, Elmore RD, Weir JR, Pyric-carnivory Fuhlendorf SD (2017) Raptor use of prescribed fires. Ecol Evol 7:9144–9150CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Howard DR, Hill PSM (2007) The effect of fire on spatial distributions of male mating aggregations in Gryllotalpa major Saussure (Orthoptera: Gryllotalpidae) at the nature conservancy’s tallgrass prairie preserve in Oklahoma: evidence of a fire-dependent species. J Kansas Entomol Soc 80:51–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jacobs JM, Bergeron JAC, Work TT, Spence JR (2011) Low intensity surface fire instigates movement by adults of Calosoma frigidum (Coleoptera, Carabidae). ZooKeys 174:641–649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jaffe KE, Isbell LA (2009) After the fire: benefits of reduced ground cover for vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops). Am J Primatol 71:252–260CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Karlsson M, Caesar S, Ahnesjö J, Forsman A (2008) Dynamics of colour polymorphism in a changing environment: Fire melanism and then what? Oecologia 154:715–724CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Karpestam E, Merilaita S, Forsman A (2012) Reduced predation risk for melanistic pygmy grasshoppers in post-fire environments. Ecol Evol 2:2204–2212CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Keeley JE, Syphard A (2016) Climate change and future fire regimes: examples from California. Geosci 6:37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Keeley JE, Pausas JG, Rundel PW, Bond WJ, Bradstock RA (2011) Fire as an evolutionary pressure shaping plant traits. Trends Plant Sci 16:406–411CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Keeley JE, Bond WJ, Bradstock RA, Pausas JG, Rundel PW (2012) Fire in Mediterranean ecosystems: ecology, evolution and management. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Kiltie RA (1989) Wildfire and the evolution of dorsal melanism in fox squirrels, Sciurus niger. J Mammal 70:726–739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kiss L, Magnin F (2006) High resilience of Mediterranean land snail communities to wildfires. Biodiv Conserv 15:2925–2944CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Klocke D, Schmitz A, Schmitz H (2011) Fire-adaptation in Hypocerides nearcticus Borgmeier and Anabarhynchus hyalipennis hyalipennis Marquart and new notes about the Australian “Smoke Fly” Microsania australis Collart (Diptera: Phoridae, Therevidae and Platypezidae). Open Entomol J 5:10–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Koivula M, Cobb T, Dechene AD, Jacobs J, Spence JR (2006) Responses of two Sericoda Kirby, 1837 (Coleoptera: Carabidae) species to forest harvesting, wildfire, and burn severity. Entomol Fenn 17:315–324Google Scholar
  46. Leahy L et al (2016) Amplified predation after fire suppresses rodent populations in Australia’s tropical savannas. Wildl Res 42:705–716CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Legge S et al (2015) A landscape-scale, applied fire management experiment promotes recovery of a population of the threatened Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae, in Australia’s tropical savannas. PLoS ONE 10:e0137997CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  48. Lillywhite HB, Friedman G, Ford N (1977) Color matching and perch selection by lizards in recently burned chaparral. Copeia 1977:115–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lopes CT, Vasconcelos HL (2011) Fire increases insect herbivory in a Neotropical savanna. Biotropica 43:612–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. MacArthur RH, MacArthur JW (1961) On bird species diversity. Ecology 42:594–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Martin RE, Sapsis DB (1992) Fires as agents of biodiversity: pyrodiversity promotes biodiversity. In: Kerner HM (ed) Proceedings of the conference on biodiversity of northwest California. University of California, Berkeley, pp 150–157Google Scholar
  52. McGregor HW, Legge S, Jones ME, Johnson CN (2016) Extraterritorial hunting expeditions to intense fire scars by feral cats. Sci Rep 6:22559CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  53. Mikolajewski DJ, Scharnweber K, Jiang B, Leicht S, Mauersberger R, Johansson F (2016) Changing the habitat: the evolution of inter-correlated traits to escape from predators. J Evol Biol 29:1394–1405CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Milberg P, Bergman K-O, Norman H, Pettersson R, Westerberg L, Wikars L-O, Jansson N (2015) A burning desire for smoke? Sampling insects favoured by forest fire in the absence of fire. J Insect Conserv 19:55–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. New TR (2014) Insects, fire and conservation. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nowack J, Delesalle M, Stawski C, Geiser F (2016) Can hibernators sense and evade fires? Olfactory acuity and locomotor performance during deep torpor. Sci Nat 103:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nugent DT, Leonard SWJ, Clarke MF (2014) Interactions between the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) and fire in south-eastern Australia. Wildl Res 41:203–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. O’Donnell KM, Thompson FR, Semlitsch RD (2016) Prescribed fire alters surface activity and movement behavior of a terrestrial salamander. J Zool 298:303–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Parr CL, Andersen AN (2006) Patch mosaic burning for biodiversity conservation: a critique of the pyrodiversity paradigm. Conserv Biol 20:1610–1619CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Parr CL, Chown SL (2003) Burning issues for conservation: a critique of faunal fire research in Southern Africa. Austral Ecol 28:384–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Parr CL, Andersen AN, Chastagnol C, Duffaud C (2006) Savanna fires increase rates and distances of seed dispersal by ants. Oecologia 151:33–41CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Parr CL, Lehmann CER, Bond WJ, Hoffmann WA, Andersen AN (2014) Tropical grassy biomes: misunderstood, neglected, and under threat. Trends Ecol Evol 29:205–213CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Parrini F, Owen-Smith N (2010) The importance of post-fire regrowth for sable antelope in a Southern African savanna. Afr J Ecol 48:526–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pausas JG (2015) Bark thickness and fire regime. Funct Ecol 29:315–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pausas JG, Keeley JE (2009) A burning story: the role of fire in the history of life. Bioscience 59:593–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Pausas JG, Keeley JE (2014) Abrupt climate-independent fire regime changes. Ecosystems 17:1109–1120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pausas JG, Bradstock RA, Keith DA, Keeley JE (2004) Plant functional traits in relation to fire in crown-fire ecosystems. Ecology 85:1085–1100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Pausas JG, Lamont BB, Paula S, Appezzato-da-Glória B, Fidelis A (2018) Unearthing belowground bud banks in fire-prone ecosystems. New Phytol. PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Platt SG, Liu H, Borg CK (2010) Fire ecology of the Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri Taylor) in Pine Rockland Forests of the lower Florida Keys. Nat Areas J 30:254–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Potts SG et al (2003) Response of plant-pollinator communities to fire: changes in diversity, abundance and floral reward structure. Oikos 101:103–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Prada M, Marini-Filho OJ, Price PW (1995) Insects in flower heads of Aspilia foliacea (Asteraceae) after a fire in a central Brazilian savanna: evidence for the plant vigor hypothesis. Biotropica 27:513–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Pruetz JD, LaDuke TC (2010) Reaction to fire by savanna chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes Verus) at Fongoli, Senegal: conceptualization of “fire behavior” and the case for a chimpanzee model. Am J Phys Anthropol 141:646–650PubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Rodríguez-Caro R, Graciá E, Anadón J, Gimenez A (2013) Maintained effects of fire on individual growth and survival rates in a spur-thighed tortoise population. Eur J Wildl Res 59:911–913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Romme WH, Boyce MS, Gresswell R, Merrill EH, Minshall GW, Whitlock C, Turner MG (2011) Twenty years after the 1988 yellowstone fires: lessons about disturbance and ecosystems. Ecosystems 14:1196–1215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Samia DSM, Nakagawa S, Nomura F, Rangel TF, Blumstein DT (2015) Increased tolerance to humans among disturbed wildlife. Nat Commun 6:8877CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  76. Sanz-Aguilar A, Anadón JD, Giménez A, Ballestar R, Graciá E, Oro D (2011) Coexisting with fire: the case of the terrestrial tortoise Testudo graeca in mediterranean shrublands. Biol Conserv 144:1040–1049CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Scasta JD (2015) Fire and parasites: an under-recognized form of anthropogenic land use change and mechanism of disease exposure. EcoHealth 12:398–403CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Scesny AA, Robbins LW (2006) Detection of fire by eastern red bats (Lasiurus borealis): arousal from torpor. Bat Res News 47:142Google Scholar
  79. Schmitz H, Trenner S (2003) Electrophysiological characterization of the multipolar thermoreceptors in the “fire-beetle” Merimna atrata and comparison with the infrared sensilla of Melanophila acuminata (both Coleoptera, Buprestidae). J Comp Physiol A 189:715–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Schoennagel T, Balch JK, Brenkert-Smith H, Dennison PE, Harvey BJ, Krawchuk MA, Mietkiewicz N, Morgan P, Moritz MA, Rasker R, Turner MG, Whitlock C (2017) Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114:4582–4590CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  81. Schutz S, Weissbecker B, Hummel HE, Apel KH, Schmitz H, Bleckmann H (1999) Insect antenna as a smoke detector. Nature 398:298–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sensenig RL, Kimuyu DK, Ruiz Guajardo JC, Veblen KE, Riginos C, Young TP (2017) Fire disturbance disrupts an acacia ant–plant mutualism in favor of a subordinate ant species. Ecology 98:1455–1464CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Smith JK (ed) (2000) Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on fauna. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-42, Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest ServiceGoogle Scholar
  84. Smith A, Avitabile SC, Leonard SWJ (2017) Less fuel for the fire: malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) nesting activity affects fuel loads and fire behaviour. Wildl Res 43:640–648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Stawski C, Körtner G, Nowack J, Geiser F (2015) The importance of mammalian torpor for survival in a post-fire landscape. Biol Lett 11:20150134CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  86. Stromberg M (1997) Taricha torosa (California newt) response to fire. Herpetol Rev 28:82–84Google Scholar
  87. Suckling DM, Gibb AR, Daly JM, Chen X, Brockerhoff EG (2001) Behavioral and electrophysiological responses of Arhopalus tristis to burnt pine and other stimuli. J Chem Ecol 27:1091–1104CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  88. Swengel A (2001) A literature review of insect responses to fire, compared to other conservation managements of open habitat. Biodivers Conserv 10:1141–1169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Thom MD, Daniels JC, Kobziar LN, Colburn JR (2015) Can butterflies evade fire? Pupa location and heat tolerance in fire prone habitats of Florida. PLoS ONE 10:e0126755CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  90. van Langevelde F, Van de Vijver CADM, Kumar L, van de Koppel J, Ridder N, van Andel J, Skidmore AK, Hearne JW, Stroosnijder L, Bond WJ, Prins HHT, Rietkerk M (2003) Effects of fire and herbivory on the stability of savanna ecosystems. Ecology 84:337–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. van Mantgem EF, Keeley JE, Witter M (2015) Faunal responses to fire in chaparral and sage scrub in California, USA. Fire Ecol 11:128–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Whelan RJ (1995) The ecology of fire. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  93. Whelan R, Rodgerson L, Dickman CR, Sutherland EF (2002) Critical life cycles of plants and animals: developing a process-based understanding of population changes in fire-prone landscapes. In: Bradstock RA, Williams JE, Gill AM (eds) Flammable Australia: the fire regimes and biodiversity of a continent, pp 94–124Google Scholar
  94. Wikars L-O (2002) Dependence on fire in wood-living insects: an experiment with burned and unburned spruce and birch logs. J Insect Conserv 6:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CIDE-CSICMontcadaSpain
  2. 2.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  3. 3.Department of Animal, Plant and Environmental SciencesUniversity of the WitwatersrandWitsSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations