BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: wildfire

Australian Wildfires to Be 3x as Frequent

Fires have been raging across Australia for almost four months now. Concentrated in the east, the fires have killed 24 people so far and over a billion mammals. Record high temperatures and a long drought are the main culprits of the devastating fires. Scientists claim that the cause of these abnormal conditions in Australia is climate change and predict that these fires will be three times as likely to occur by the end of the century.

An oscillating ocean-atmosphere weather pattern that starts in the Indian ocean is behind the particularly hot and dry seasons in Australia. The weather pattern has three phases: Positive, Neutral, and Negative. When the Indian Ocean dipole is in a strong positive phase it leads to Australia’s worst fire seasons. Wenju Cai of CSIRO is a climate scientist studying the fires.

“Global warming is likely to make such extreme positive phases much more common,” He said.

     In a 2014 study, he simulated future sea-surface temperature changes in the Indian Ocean in a world where greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. They found that the frequency of strong positive-phase events could increase from about once every 17 years to about once every six years, tripling the frequency of fires in Australia. When asked if there’s a link between the fires and climate change, Cai responded,

“The big message of our 2014 paper is that, under global warming, that kind of huge Indian Ocean dipole will increase threefold by 2100.”

Proven in the study by Wenju Cai, if greenhouse emissions continue on their path then fires in Australia will be three times as frequent by the end of the century. What we can do to give the planet a better future is reduce these emissions.

For more on the devastating fires in Australia, click here or here

First step to recovery after uncontrollable wildfires: Microbes?

As we all know, wildfires all around the world, especially out west have been burning uncontrollably. They are continuing to get larger and more unpredictable. But these fires are not only affecting humans and animals, rather they have narrowed down to affecting the tiniest of forest organisms—including bacteria and fungi– and researchers are now finding that some of the microbes are “thriving”.

A study last week reported that “that populations of several bacterial and fungal species increased after severe wildfires in the boreal forests of the Northwest Territories and Alberta in Canada.” Studies like these and others such as the effect of smoke on the distribution of microbes, “give researchers a clearer picture of how wildfires change microbial communities”, and can possibly help them predict how ecosystems will recover after blazing flames. “Microbes help to maintain ecosystem health by decomposing organic matter and readying nutrients for plants to absorb”. For example, because certain fungi and bacteria have specific relationships with plants, it makes it possible to predict which nutrients will be available in an area.

Image result for wildfireIn order to test what they had predicted researchers collected samples from 62 sites about a year after 50 of them had been damaged by fire in 2014 in forests of two Canadian provinces. They found that certain bacteria in the Massilia and Arthrobacter genera were more present after than before the fires. This bacteria usually shows up in cucumber root and seed, and some researchers are predicting that there might be some growth of vegetation of that kind in the future when the forests begin to recover.

It is predicted that microbes “use fire to colonize new territory is by hitching a ride on small particles of ash or dust in plumes of smoke”. In a study published last November, Leda and her team conducted a study and found that “the microbes present in the smoke differed from those lingering in ambient air”. The microbes getting caught in the smoke she predicts can help plant growth in faraway regions.

There is a downside. It has been detected that some fungus, such as Phytophthora ramorum, cause sudden oak death. Another negative is the smoke that the firefighters, other ER personal, and people inhale after and during the fires could contain hazardous microbes. These can lead to lung problems and allergens.

Microbes are not often spoken about when wildfires sweep through, but they surprisingly have more impact than you may think. When entire ecosystems are reduced to ash, microbes determine the first step on the road to recovery.

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