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Aaron J. Bell
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Fire Effects

NRFSN number: 25261
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The concurrent impacts of fire suppression, climate-warming, and industrial forestry have dramatically altered the spatio-temporal patterns of fire across the globe. Pyrophilic insects are among the species most threatened by these changes due to their dependence on recurring fire, and the extent to which they are adapted for exploiting the post-burn environment. Here, I review our current understanding of pyrophilic insects and the life-history adaptations that facilitate this highly specialized mode of life. I begin with an evaluation of three lines of evidence commonly used to characterize species’ associations with fire, including pyrophilic behaviour (i.e., attraction to fire), possession of pyrophilic adaptations (e.g., infrared sensors), and abundance patterns in burnt and unburnt habitats. This evaluation shows a general incongruence between the resulting lists of pyrophilic species that may explain, in part, the varying approaches to defining pyrophily in the literature. Many insects, including non-pyrophilic species, are opportunistically drawn to fire, suggesting that attraction to fire alone is not a good indicator of pyrophily. Although the relative abundance of species considered to be pyrophilic was generally higher in burnt habitats, data limitations restricted this evaluation to a small subset of species. Evidence of pyrophilic adaptations was the best single indicator of pyrophily given that these traits reflect longstanding, co-evolution with fire. Whereas much of our limited knowledge of these species stems from studies of individual taxa, there is growing consensus that these insects are part of a larger community that have evolved to exploit reproductive advantages in the post-burn environment.


Bell AJ. 2023. Like moths to a flame: A review of what we know about pyrophilic insects. Forest Ecology and Management 528 article 120629.

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