Catalysis Meeting

The co-evolution of plants and fire and consequences for the Earth system

PI(s): Sally Archibald (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research)
Caroline Lehmann (University of Edinburgh)
Start Date: 15-Nov-2013
End Date: 30-Nov-2014
Keywords: coevolution, ecology, phylogenetics, life histories, paleontology

Fires have burned on earth since there was vegetation to support combustion, and plants have continually been evolving the traits required to tolerate fire, and in some cases to promote particular types of fire regimes. Plant innovations related to flammability, that change how ecosystems burn, can have cascading impacts on all other plant species. There are dramatic examples in the paleo-record of changes in patterns of vegetation and fire on earth linked to the evolution of new leaf properties and plant life histories. Moreover, greenhouse gas emissions from fire have a direct influence on the atmospheric chemistry of the biosphere and can profoundly impact climate and the cycling of the key elements of life: carbon, oxygen, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Understanding constraints and feedbacks between climate, vegetation, and fire in the earth system requires an understanding of the evolution of different plant traits as well as inputs from disciplines such as plant community ecology, phylogenetics, fire ecology, evolutionary biology and earth system science. Advances in each of these disciplines over recent years mean that it is now possible to initiate a broad synthetic research program on the co-evolution of plants and fire, and its feedbacks to the earth system. This catalysis meeting aims to enable this synthesis by bringing the relevant experts together.