Towards a common fire strategy scheme for plants and animals

Submitted by editor on 4 October 2018.Get the paper!

One of the unifying approaches in ecology is to search for common strategies, that is, types of mechanisms and responses to environmental factors and disturbances. Plant strategies to persist in fire-prone ecosystems (and the traits involved) are nowadays quite well know. However, less is known about fire strategies in animals, despite many fire-prone ecosystems harbour a very rich fauna (e.g., savannas). This difference in knowledge is probably due to the intrinsic differences between plants (immobile) and animals (mobile). In this paper I wanted to emphasize the similarities between plants and animals in relation to the mechanisms for living in fire-prone ecosystems. To do so, I propose a very simple classification of fire strategies that should be valid for both plants and animals (Table 1; see the original paper for a detailed description of each strategy).

The advantage of having a unified framework of fire strategies include: (1) we can learn how species respond to fire from a great diversity of life forms; (2) animal and plant ecologists can benefit from shared expertise in fire responses (some common strategies in plants may be overlooked in animals, or vice-versa); (3) we could better predict changes in plant-animal interactions with fire regime changes, and (4) we could better assess and generalize the effects of fire on biodiversity. I hope this framework facilitates finding knowledge gaps and directing future research for gaining a better understanding of the role of fire on biodiversity.

Table 1. Mechanisms of species response to fire (strategy), their fire dynamics and persistence scale, and the prevalence for animals and plants in fire prone ecosystems (low, moderate, and high). The last column refers to the fire characteristics where this strategy is most likely to occur (‘high’ and ‘low’ refers to fire intensity).


The rhea (Rhea americana) has a cryptic colouration in postfire environments, when sitting in the ground, the neck cannot be differentiated from a burned stem (Photo: JG Pausas).


Charaxes jasius colonizing the middle of a burnt area 10 days after the wildfire that burned with very high intensity in NE Spain (note that only thick branches remained). (Photo: JG Pausas).

For more information in this research and other topics related to fire ecology see the web ( and blog ( of the author, or follow him on twitter (

J.G. Pausas

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