Connecting People with Nature

Fire and its Role in Nature

Essential Knowledge for Naturalists

We're not talking about campfires or burning buildings here. We're talking wildland fire. A fire buring in a natural environment is a wildland fire. Many natural communities have some dependence or adaptation to periodic natural fires. Fires can have different impacts on different natural communities, some good, some not so good.

Certain communities are "fire-dependent," meaning that they need fire to function properly. Fire, in such places, can play a vital role in preparing the soil for new growth of plants, oxidizing and releasing stored nutrients, and perhaps killing invasive plants that otherwise may choke out native ecosystem components.

In these environments, pariodic fires tend to use up fuel, thus preventing more intense, potentialty more dangerous, fires from developing in the future. Dead and diseased trees that could harbor insect pests are destroyed by fires as well.

In Ohio fire may have been an important part fo the ecosystem in pre-settlement times. However, there is no clear picture of that era. native American Indians may have started fires to clear plots for farming, to help hunt game, or for other reasons.

Present fire dependent communities in Ohio are limited to oak-hickory forests, prairies and savannas. These systems rely on some means of reducing competition to keep the dominant plants in their proper place. Given the humidity and relative abundance of rain in Ohio, small scale fires probably only opened small areas each year for these habitats until native americans and european settlers greatly enhanced the process.

Check out the Pacific Biodiversity Institute's page for more information about fire in Nature. For Ohio-specifics, go to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources web page and read:Ohio's Fire History's feed chicklet's email chicklet's e-newsletter chicklet
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