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Trends Ecol Evol. 2005 Jul;20(7):387-94.

Fire as a global 'herbivore': the ecology and evolution of flammable ecosystems.

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Department of Botany, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa.


It is difficult to find references to fire in general textbooks on ecology, conservation biology or biogeography, in spite of the fact that large parts of the world burn on a regular basis, and that there is a considerable literature on the ecology of fire and its use for managing ecosystems. Fire has been burning ecosystems for hundreds of millions of years, helping to shape global biome distribution and to maintain the structure and function of fire-prone communities. Fire is also a significant evolutionary force, and is one of the first tools that humans used to re-shape their world. Here, we review the recent literature, drawing parallels between fire and herbivores as alternative consumers of vegetation. We point to the common questions, and some surprisingly different answers, that emerge from viewing fire as a globally significant consumer that is analogous to herbivory.


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