Research, Technology

What are megafires and how can burned forests be restored?

Forest fires have always occurred on our planet,and they have been of great benefit to our planet by helping to destroy old trees. After the fires, the soil was renewed, thanks to which young plants grew in vast areas. However, today, due to frequent abnormal heat, there are megafiresresulting in the burning of thousands of hectareswoods, and that's no good. Due to the spread of fire for many kilometers, entire ecosystems are destroyed and it is extremely difficult to restore them. A good example of a devastating megafire is the Soberanes fire, the name given to the massive wildfire that took place along the coast of California and destroyed 53,470 hectares of forest. Recently, researchers found that the fire destroyed almost all living things, with the exception of a few types of fungi. It would seem that this is interesting? The fact is that thanks to this discovery, scientists will be able to restore burned forests.

Extinguishing a megafire in California

The strongest fires on earth

The devastating Soberanes fire broke out in 2016due to illegally lighting a fire in Garrapata State Park. The fire spread very quickly and burned the area along the California coast of Big Sur, affected the tourist area of ​​Ventana Wilderness and stretched to the city of Monterey. More than 5,000 people were involved in extinguishing several tens of thousands of hectares of forest. 57 houses and 11 outbuildings were burned to the ground, while maneuvering around a fire truck, one bulldozer rolled over on a slope, which caused the death of the driver. Putting out the fire cost $260 million. The perpetrators of the fire have not been found, but if they are ever identified, they will be charged with negligence and manslaughter.

Red color shows the area that was engulfed in flames as a result of the Soberanes fire

For several years in a row, Siberianforests are also megafires. In 2019, as a result of fires, about 5 million hectares of forest burned down and the smoke from the fire reached the large cities of Siberia, the Urals and Kazakhstan. The Australian fires that same year destroyed 18 million hectares of forest. In 2021, the Siberian forests suffered even more - about 17 million hectares of forest burned out. Putting out all these fires is very difficult and, in most cases, they subside only when there is nothing else to burn.

Satellite image of wildfires in Siberia in 2021


Who survives wildfires?

As a result of destruction, not onlyplants, but animals also die. However, researchers have recently studied soil samples left over from the Soberanes fire. It turned out that some fungi and bacteria were able to survive after the fire - as a result, the fungal population decreased by only 70%, and the diversity of bacteria decreased by only 52%. Among the survivors, scientists say, are microscopic creatures of the species Actinobacteria, which are involved in the decomposition of bacteria. They also noticed the thriving bacteria Firmicutes, which promote the development of plants and protect them from disease.

Microbes extracted from burnt soil

But most scientists were interested in fungiBasidioascus, which decompose various components of wood, including lignin, a hard part of plant cell walls that provides them with protection. They also found surviving Penicillium fungus. How they managed to survive, scientists do not know for sure. But there is a version that they feed on charcoal and substances that are released by burnt plants and animals.

3D model of Penicillium fungus

Flexibility has common adaptive features thatmake them resistant to fire. This discovery allows us to predict which species have the highest chance of surviving wildfires,” said mushroom expert Sydney Glassman.

How to restore forests after fires?

At present, scientists know little about howsoil and microbes react to large fires. This discovery is the first of its kind, and it gives scientists great hope. The fact that some of the fungi and bacteria involved in the development of plants survive after fires suggests that they can be used to restore forests. According to Sidney Glassman, plants are unlikely to be able to recover on their own after fires. So finding organisms to help them do this is very good news.

Burnt forests need to be restored somehow, but scientists don't know exactly how to do it.

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