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Why fires will never kill the Mediterranean

Güncelleme tarihi: 21 Ara 2023

In recent years, the world has been shaken up by wildfires all around the globe. Especially the summer of 2023 which stood out due to heat-wave temperatures, increasing the likelihood of wildfires even more. One such area that was impacted the most by these wildfires was the Mediterranean, with Turkey, Greece, and Italy all having some of the worst fires of their history between 2021-2023. All of this was made worse by the Mediterranean climate. Yet despite how easy it is for fires to start in the hot, arid weather, life in the Mediterranean has been flourishing for millions of years. This is because the flora is highly adapted to the cycle of wildfires, and some species even have integrated mechanisms to survive and thrive after big fires.

One such example is the Aleppo pine, a native Mediterranean species. What makes this tree special is that it literally needs fire to spread. A tree of this species has cones that remain tightly closed because of a resinous substance. However, once exposed to the heat of a fire, the resin melts and the cone opens up, at the same time releasing the seeds inside. This process is called serotiny and is mostly seen in plants that live in environments that are prone to fire, such as the Mediterranean. These types of plants are called “obligate seeders”.

(1: Example of a serotinous cone from a different species - from Awkard Botany)

(2: Open serotinous cone - from BLM Oregon & Washington)

Another native plant, the cork oak, has a different and more straightforward strategy. As the name suggests, the bark of this tree is often used in cork-making because of its thickness and its unique ability to regenerate its bark. Not only that, but the bark has a texture that’s similar to corks, it has many holes in it containing fire-resistant substances. This allows the already regenerating, extra-thick bark to be even more fire-resistant.

(Cork tree bark - from 42 Birds)

One more example is the popular mastic tree is a species of tree widely grown in Chios and Çeşme, with a distinct post-fire recovery mechanism. The mastic tree has larger roots with more resources stored in them. These roots in the soil cannot be touched by the flames. They come into action once a fire destroys the tree, and the tree uses the roots to regrow, aided by the stored energy.

These types of trees are fittingly called “resprouters” and are generally considered more fit to survive than obligate seeders, as obligate seeders can be wiped out easily with a few wildfires back to back.

(Diagram showing resprouter cycle - J. G. Pausas' blog)

All in all, it’s safe to say that the Mediterranean flora is more than well-equipped to deal with the risks of its environment. The plants of the region have thrived for millions of years and will almost certainly find a way to keep thriving if they’re ever put at risk in the future.



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