New Benefit of Prescribed Fires Discovered

Scientists at the Negaunee Institute for Plant Conservation Science and Action at the Chicago Botanic Garden discovered a new benefit of prescribed fires. In a 21-year study, researchers discovered that fires synchronize the bloom time of flowering prairie plants, which helps plants find mates, reproduce, and make more seeds. These findings demonstrate a previously undocumented and potentially widespread way that fire promotes healthy plant populations and maintains plant diversity in fire-dependent ecosystems worldwide. Stuart Wagenius, Ph.D., the lead investigator, said, "Prairie managers know that fires help native plants and suppress weeds. Usually, people think that fires help small plants compete better against trees. Our experiment uncovers a totally different benefit of fire—more mating and better pollination." This research addresses a critical conservation concern worldwide: the loss of native plant species in fire-dependent ecosystems. Fewer fires in many ecosystems, like the North American prairie, contribute to local extinctions. This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA on January 27, 2020.