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The Antiquity of Fire as an Ecological-Evolutionary Force in Florida and the Southeastern Coastal Plain
8:30 AM - 9:00 AM
Tue Nov 28, 2017
Florida and the southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain constitute one of the most fire-prone regions of the world. Several lines of evidence suggest fire has been an ecological-evolutionary force in this region for tens of millions of years. Contrary to popular notions, Florida and other low-lying areas of the Coastal Plain did not arise from the sea just recently; the earliest known terrestrial fossils from Florida are from the middle Eocene, ca. 56-44 million years ago. Due largely to the buffering effect of the ocean, the region has served as a climatic refugium, which largely explains why it is a hotspot of endemism. Many species here, including ancient ones, evolved with frequent fire and depend on fire for their existence. Moreover, most species in fire-prone ecosystems here possess fire-adaptive strategies and traits. Fire-adapted species, however, are not adapted to fire per se, but rather to particular fire regimes. If a fire regime is altered beyond the range of variability experienced by species during their evolutionary histories, probabilities of extinction may increase. Although practical considerations often dictate controlled burns that differ substantially from lightning fires, a precautionary approach would attempt to mimic the evolutionarily relevant fire regime whenever feasible.
Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor, Pegasus Professor, and Davis-Shine Professor of Conservation Biology,
University of Central Florida