Researchers: smoke promotes the germination of some seeds

We used to say “Wood smoke is good smoke”, when downplaying the negative aspects of putting smoke into the air during a prescribed fire. But apparently to some species that is literally the truth. Researchers have found that plant-derived smoke is a potent seed germination promoter for many species.

From an article in Science Daily:

Forest fire smoke. Photo by Bill Gabbert
Photo: Bill Gabbert

The innermost secrets of fire’s role in the rebirth and renewal of forests and grasslands are being revealed in research that has identified plant growth promoters and inhibitors in smoke. In the latest discovery about smoke’s secret life, an international team of scientists are reporting discovery of a plant growth inhibitor in smoke.

The study appears in ACS’s Journal of Natural Products.
“Smoke plays an intriguing role in promoting the germination of seeds of many species following a fire,” Johannes Van Staden and colleagues point out in the report. They previously discovered a chemical compound in smoke from burning plants that promotes seed germination. Such seeds, which remain in the undercover on forest and meadow floors after fires have been extinguished, are responsible for the surprisingly rapid regrowth of fire-devastated landscapes.

In their new research, the scientists report discovery of an inhibitor compound that may block the action of the stimulator, preventing germination of seeds. They suspect that the compounds may be part of a carefully crafted natural regulatory system for repopulating fire-ravaged landscapes. Interaction of these and other compounds may ensure that seeds remain dormant until environmental conditions are best for germination. The inhibitor thus may delay germination of seeds until moisture and temperature are right, and then take a back seat to the germination promoter in smoke.

The research was conducted at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Copenhagen,  and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Thanks Stephen

Prescribed fire at Chicago Botanic Garden

Here is a 4-minute video of a prescribed fire at the Chicago Botanic Garden along the Skokie River Corridor in early December, 2009. Can anyone guess why I debated about placing the video on the site?

Prescribed burning in Monmouth Battlefield State Park

I ran across some interesting videos of crews doing some prescribed burning in Monmouth Battlefield State Park in New Jersey. Apparently they have a pretty hot prescription for wind speed, and like some other firefighters in the East and South, ride on the back of fire trucks while applying water. All three videos were uploaded to YouTube on January 16, 2009.

(no longer available)

The description for all three videos is the same:

B10 crews of the NJ Forest Fire Service doing prescribed burning at Monmouth Battlefield State Park, Manalapan, NJ

Yosemite National Park fire videos

The National Park Service has produced two excellent videos about fire management in Yosemite National Park in California. They are professional quality and rival any of the slick productions you see on broadcast television.

One is titled Best Intentions and gives an overall view of prescribed fire in the park. It is supposed to be 26 minutes long, but while watching it on the park’s web site it abruptly stopped at the 15 minute mark, in the middle of Fuels Specialist Mike Beasley’s interview, which is a shame because Mike is a former co-worker and I was looking forward to seeing his presentation. It is possible to download the entire 48 MB Quicktime video and watch it on your own computer, which would be a work-around for the 15-minute cutoff.

Frame from Best Intentions, NPS video
Frame from Best Intentions, NPS video

The other video is called Restoring a Meadow and is 7 minutes long. It is about removing non-native blackberry and the use of prescribed fire as one of the tools to accomplish that objective.  The most interesting part of the video is how they ignite the prescribed fire without using any matches, fusees, accelerants, or drip torches.

Frame from Restoring a Meadow, NPS video
Frame from Restoring a Meadow, NPS video

Quote of the day

In explaining to a reporter why the Everglades National Park is conducting a 1,500-acre prescribed fire, Rick Anderson, the park’s Fire Management Officer, said in part:

“If we don’t burn it when we can control it, it will burn when we can’t.”

Well said.

File photo of a prescribed fire in Everglades National Park. NPS photo.
File photo of a prescribed fire in Everglades National Park. NPS photo.

Researchers: "Ethnicity does matter when it comes to prescribed fire"

Researchers from the USDA’s Southern Research Station (SRS) concluded in a study that a person’s ethnicity and culture may affect their perceptions of prescribed fire. Here is an excerpt from a summary of their report:


SRS researchers Mike Bowker, Cassandra Johnson, and Ken Cordell, along with university collaborators Siew Lim, Gary Green, and Sandra Rideout-Hanzak (former SRS scientist) used data from a recent version of the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment to look at how culture affects perceptions and attitudes about fire and fire management in the South. When they analyzed the results, they found definite variations among respondents from the three most prominent ethnic groups in the South—African- Americans, Hispanics, and whites— about prescribed fire and its effects.

“The purpose of the southwide survey was to provide policymakers with a broad picture of public opinion on prescribed fire among major ethnic groups in the Southern United States,” says Bowker, SRS research social scientist based in Athens, GA. “The goal is to enhance agency communications with the public and to gain acceptance of prescribed fire as a fuel control program.”

Though overall most survey respondents agreed that public land managers and forest professionals can be trusted to choose the best methods for dealing with fire, African- American and Hispanic agreement was lower. African-Americans and Hispanics were also less likely to support prescribed fire as a management tool, and were more concerned about fire effects—harm to wildlife, reduced scenic quality, and smoke—than whites. Females across all groups also tended to be more concerned about the effects of prescribed fire than males. In addition, although level of education had no effect on preference for prescribed fire in general, concern over side effects diminished as education increased.

“Though we found that concern over the side effects of prescribed fire diminished as education level increased, it doesn’t mean that more education leads to environmental knowledge,” cautions Bowker. “The whole correlation between education and environmental knowledge needs to be more carefully examined.”

One reason for differences among groups may have to do with ethnic environmental beliefs and backgrounds, an area that social environmental science has only started to explore. Another factor uncovered in the survey was local private forest land coverage. According to the survey data, as the presence of private forest land increases in the area a respondent lives in, so does distrust in the use of fire as a management tool. This result may indicate a lack of confidence in the expertise of private land owners or managers, distrust of state liability laws, or a lack of communication between residents and private land managers.

“Our statistical evidence suggests that ethnicity does matter when it comes to prescribed fire,” says Bowker. “To gain wide public support and trust, land managers and owners should be aware of these differences, and fuel control programs should be tailored with the concerns and preferences of the local community in mind.”


via @fireinfogirl