The natural vegetation covering the globe looks like it does because of the climate, doesnt it? Forests are found where water is abundant and it is not too cold, deserts are found where it is dry. This is what our intuition tells us – but it is not always true.
New research carried out by Bond, Woodward and Midgley from University of Cape Town, University of Sheffield and the South African National Biodiversity Institute of and published in the February 2005 issue of New Phytologist has shown that a potent force overrides climate in shaping vegetation – fire.
Much of the world is covered by vegetation that seems out of place, for example in Mediterranean regions of South Africa low shrublands are found where rainfall is great enough to support forests. We also know, from satellite imagery, that wildfires are a global phenomenon occurring on all vegetated continents. Bond et al. suspected that fires are common in areas where vegetation does not "fit" the climate. If true, this suggests that fire has a major effect on the ecosystems of the world. So, how different would the world look if we could switch fire off?
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