“Most animals can’t stand the heat of an active fire, but once the fire is extinguished, it becomes a beacon that attracts all sorts of things,” said Aaron Bell, a doctoral candidate in biology at the USask College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study. “Many animals (not just insects but also birds and mammals) are attracted to recent burns and use these habitats immediately after a fire.”
According to the study conducted by USask recently published in the journal Ecosphere, researchers have found that pyrophilic – or “fire-loving” – beetles that lay their eggs in burned habitats tend to have an 80% increase in reproductive capacity compared to individuals that lay eggs in forest soils unburned, demonstrating significant environmental use of land affected by forest fires. habitats.
“Unburned soils are teeming with small microorganisms that easily attack and kill vulnerable eggs, while soils exposed to the heat of wildfires are temporarily devoid of these predators and pathogens,” Bell said. “Many insects use burned forest landscapes to breed, but fire-loving insects do it better. Until now, we really didn’t understand what benefit they get from colonizing the burnt environment so quickly.
Using recent forest fires in Fort a la Corne in 2020 and near Prince Albert in 2021 as study locations, the research team found that the burnt ground environment is rapidly colonized by pyrophilic beetles that take advantage thermal sterilization of the surrounding soil to lay eggs which have a better chance of survival, thus increasing their rate of reproductive success. These findings shed light on the peculiar behavior of these insects and help explain why they colonize the burned area so quickly, often while the fire is still burning.
The work also suggests that the reproduction of pyrophilic insects is strongly linked to natural fire. The research team included USask College of Arts and Science Assistant Professor Dr. Iain Phillips (PhD), USask alumnus Kiara Calladine and Co-Director Dr. David Wardle (PhD), Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.