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The Impact of Plant Evolution on Fire Behaviour in Ancient Ecosystems (ECOFLAM)
Start date: Oct 1, 2013, End date: Sep 30, 2018 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Fire has played a key role in the evolutionary success of our species and has shaped the abundance of life that we see on our planet today. Wildfires have influenced the history of plant life for 410 million years where 5 key plant evolutionary events have occurred that led to variations in fire behaviour. Variations in fire behaviour determine a fire’s severity and its impact on an ecosystem. In order to assess palaeofire severity the heat delivered by a fire and the duration for which it remains at a site must be estimated. Currently we are unable to estimate palaeofire behaviour and are therefore unable to predict the ecological impact of palaeofires. ECOFLAM will change this by combining for the first time state-of-the-art flammability experiments with innovative modelling approaches to reconstruct variations in palaeofire behaviour due to plant innovations. ECOFLAM will establish relationships between plant traits that are measurable in the fossil record, and their flammability. It will construct simple metrics that can be applied to assess the nature of fires occurring in a fossil flora. Then using a frontier approach ECOFLAM will apply mathematical models to create the first ever estimates of palaeofire behaviour. ECOFLAM will: 1) estimate fire behaviour in Earth’s earliest forests, 2) assess the impact of the evolution of gymnosperm conifers on changes in fire regime and fire behaviour 3) test the hypothesis that early angiosperms utilised fire to invade and out compete gymnosperm forests, 4) test the hypothesis that expansion of neotropical forests led to suppression of fire and 5) track the ability of increases in grass fuel to enhance ecosystem flammability enabling expansion of the savanna biome. ECOFLAM will collaborate with an artist to visually express the relationship between fire and plants to bring fire science to the arts and public. Finally via an exciting link with Morgan Stanley, London ECOFLAM will explore the economic impact of wildfires.
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