The Effects of Wildfires: Their Positive Contributions to Plants and Animals

Author: Brooklynn Newberry


As climate temperatures increase during the summer and dry seasons, many forests have ignited into flames. Although these fires cause immediate devastation to local species, studies have found that wildfires have many long-term benefits for plants and animals. Wildfires are a natural part of our ecosystem and contain qualities that increase the value of life for many species. As plants regrow from the ashes, new habitats are created that support greater biodiversity. This happens by reducing the density of the forests in order to increase the diversity of the landscapes. It has also been proven that by reducing competition for nutrition among species, forests can grow healthier and stronger than ever before. With this year having the record for some of the biggest fires in history, it is important to recognize the long-term benefits for forests. 

As the number of wildfires each year continues to rise, many begin to question the impact that these fires have on the wildlife in the surrounding areas. In this paper, I will argue that wildfires are a natural part of our ecosystem and contain qualities that can increase the value of life for many species. After a few years from the fire, many species have trended towards an increased population. In the Iberian Peninsula, scientists have been closely monitoring the population of wild rabbits after a fire swept through their environment. After five years, their population has increased along with the carrying capacity for that species (Rollen, Pg. 2). It has also been proven that fires can maintain biodiversity, regenerate plant species and even contribute to the recovery of grasslands (Alcaniz, Pg. 2). Fires are able to create landscape diversity by creating an open-canopy habitat for unique or rare species to live (Reilly, Pg. 6). The open-canopy structure is the most important factor that influences both species richness and composition (Moretti, Pg. 85). Wildfires play a key role in maintaining habitat heterogeneity (Herando, Pg. 161). Fires can also help to reduce competition for nutrients in plants. This gives species the ability to be healthier and grow stronger. The fires in the Cascade mountains are a good example of this as they have been shown to contribute to reducing forest density and increasing the landscape diversity (Reilly, Pg. 4). Given these arguments, many would assume that all wildfires are good for our ecosystem. Although there are benefits to fires, they can cause damage to the ecosystem in special circumstances. It is important to note that these benefits can only be taken into place if the fire occurs within its natural cycle. Even though the species may benefit from fires, many individual organisms that are not infected with invasive species may be harmed.


For the majority of our country’s history, the belief about fire has been that it has more negative effects compared to positive effects, but before colonization fires were used by native American tribes as a way to regenerate wild plants and create habitats. When Europeans came to America, they brought the fear of fire’s destructive nature along with them. In today’s culture, we now suppress all fires; including natural ones that ecosystems need. Wildfires used to burn low to the ground with low intensity. These fires were a safe way to regenerate plant species and animal habitats. The flames wouldn’t get big enough to burn through communities or harm animals in its path. After colonization, the suppression of these needed wildfires, have caused dense forests that are weak and unhealthy as each species struggles for nutrients. It inhibits the ability for the forest to become diverse. Biodiversity is an important aspect to obtain a stronger and healthier forest. It gives ecosystems the ability to gain proper nutrients and grow consistently. Now that we have dense forests with little diversity, it makes these ecosystems more susceptible to larger and more dangerous fires. It also makes it difficult for many species to survive as they are constantly fighting for nutrients. It can be deadly to rare species. Fires that burn in these overgrown forests, now burn at a high intensity with polluted smoke. This just goes to show, natural wildfires need to happen in order to reduce high intensity burns.

As the climate continues to change, the season for fires gets longer each year. During the year of 2020, we had the three largest fires in Colorado history. More fires broke out all along the western coast as well as a large forest fire in Australia that gained around 1,200,100 acres. It is apparent that these fires will not disappear. They will continue to grow each year. It is important to understand the behavior of fire and the benefits that are to come within the next few years. If we are able to understand our ecosystem and their relationship to fire, we may be able to promote healthy and strong ecosystems that have the ability to sustain the changes of climate change.


In order to understand the benefits of fire, many researchers have performed their own experiments to understand the effects. An article by Alex Rollen, “Effect of wildfires and post-fire forest treatments on rabbit abundance”, we explore the populations of the European wild rabbits and the effects that wildfires have on their habitats. Rollen’s thesis in the article is that wildfires have a positive effect on the population of wild rabbits by providing additional habitats for the species (Rollen, Pg. 1). Throughout the last five years after the fire in the Iberian Peninsula, the population of rabbits increased (Rollen, Pg. 2). This is because there is a reduced amount of grazing and abandonment of agriculture in this area which is the leading cause of loss of habitats (Rollen, Pg.2). Throughout the article, the author assumes that as the abundance of wild rabbits increase, so does the population of predators that prey on the rabbit (Rollen, Pg. 3). The author assumes this by discussing how the decrease in the wild rabbit population has become a severe conservation problem to the Iberian Mediterranean ecosystem and that the abundance of the rabbits, fix this issue (Rollen, Pg. 5). The Iberian Mediterranean ecosystem is just one example of how wildfires can have a positive effect of the restoration of different species. Wildfires have the ability to clear out hard soil that is left behind from grazing and create softer soil that can be used to burrow. It promotes regeneration of both habitats for wild rabbits and regeneration of plant species that were killed due to grazing of other species.

Fires are able to promote the regeneration of many species and even change entire forest dynamics to become healthier. Another article “Cumulative effects of wildfires on forest dynamics in the eastern Cascade Mountains”, Matthew J. Reilly writes about how wildfires can contribute to conservation objectives (Reilly, Pg. 1). He performed an experiment in the Cascade Mountains from 1985 to 2010 to show that wildfires create open habitats (Reilly, Pg. 2). The fires help to create these habitats by burning up to 30% of the cold subalpine zone (Reilly, Pg. 4). The fires in the Cascade mountains have also been shown to contribute to reducing forest density and increasing the landscape diversity (Reilly, Pg. 4). This creates a higher stability in ecosystems towards changes in the environmental conditions. These areas are also more likely to be productive in adapting to climate changes. Fires are able to create landscape diversity by creating an open-canopy habitat for unique or rare species to live (Reilly, Pg. 6). As the diversity grows in the habitat, the more stability it has. It can be assumed that while observing fire restoration areas in the Cascade Mountains, scientists also observed unburned areas in order to compare the differences. The wildfires in the Cascade Mountains provide us with evidence that the habitats of these restored areas contain many conservation objectives and suggest fires to be healthy for ecosystems on a long-term scale. It also shows us, that fires can promote more habitats for unique or rare species to live. This can increase the population for rare species in the area.

Fires can also help contribute to recovering soil properties that have been damaged over time. This can make seed germination and regeneration of plant species easier. An article by M. Alcaniz, “Effects of prescribed fires on soil properties: A review”, suggests that fires can have many positive recovery effects (Alcaniz, Pg. 12). Alcaniz explores how fires can maintain biodiversity, regenerate plant species and even contribute to the recovery of grasslands (Alcaniz, Pg. 2). He examines the short and long-term effects as well as the pros and cons of fires in order to determine how useful fires can be (Alcaniz, Pg. 2). Alcaniz finds that many fires have positive impacts including regulating dry-matter accumulation, controlling plant species, influencing forest insects, parasites and fungi, controlling the ecosystems nutrient cycle and many more (Alcaniz, Pg. 2). As soil breaks down, due to the combustion of organic matter in fires, the bulk density increases which creates more seedbeds for restoration (Alcaniz, Pg. 3). It can be assumed that the article uses data that does not directly correlate to wildfires. It is still important to note how fires, in general, can influence many of these aspects. Alcaniz points out many positive aspects of fires in the long-term. Although he discusses prescribed fires, many thoughts still apply to wildfires. All fires contribute to an increase in biodiversity and the regeneration of plant species. They also have the ability to kill off invasive species in order to support new species during restoration.

Insects can also be proven to have benefits from wildfires. The article “The effects of wildfires on wood-eating beetles in deciduous forests on the southern slope of the Swiss Alps” by Marco Moretti, investigates the effects of wildfires on wood eating beetles by examining 23 chucks of burnt and unburnt land within the Chestnut Forest in Switzerland. This area was chosen because it is very prone to fast spreading surface fires (Moretti, Pg. 85). The article concludes that areas containing burnt land plots with different frequencies and at different times helps create an open forest structure. It argues that this forest structure is a very important factor that influences both species richness and composition (Moretti, Pg. 85). The author states that fire is one of the most important disturbance factors within any natural ecosystem (Moretti, Pg. 85). The faunistic data samples were captured using combi-traps (a combination of yellow water pan and window trap) (Moretti, Pg. 86). In this study, the author assumes that the 6 traps taken from each of the 23 sights accurately represents the species distribution in that area. The results showed a total of 1152 individuals representing 56 species (Moretti, Pg. 89). The most important finding was that some species were found exclusively in burnt sights (Moretti, Pg. 89) suggesting that the wildfires were positively correlated to biodiversity. The increased biodiversity of beetles in the Chestnut Forest in Switzerland supports my research project hypothesis that wildfires may have hidden positive effects on the ecosystem. It also shows that many species, including insects, can use burnt areas to create a better living environment.

Many forest bird species also benefit from wildfires. The article “Forest bird diversity in Mediterranean areas affected by wildfires: a multi-scale approach” by Sergi Herando, argues that the majority of wildfire studies are missing the big picture because they only investigate man made wildfires on a small scale and small timeline. Using a muli-scale approach, the author investigates the forest bird diversity in Mediteranian areas. The author concludes that natural wildfires play a key role in maintaining habitat heterogeneity (Herando, Pg. 161). This is due to the fact that natural wildfires transform large continuous chunks of forests into fragmented blocks of forests and shrublands, comparing the layout to a mosaic artwork. This article claims that a mosaic ecosystem structure positively contributes to a habitat’s biodiversity. Data for burnt and unburnt areas in this study was collected via aerial photographs. Bird census data was taken using the point count method (Herando, Pg. 163). A total of 36 breeding bird species were found during the fieldwork (Herando, Pg. 167). The author assumes that the relatively small samples taken from the areas represent the entire region. The study concluded that burnt and unburnt areas within a variety of landscapes contained different species of birds. For example, canopy species were found in areas with high vertical tree development while others were not. This supports the hypothesis that wildfires have a positive effect on a habitat’s biodiversity. It also shows that even burnt areas of the forest provide certain species of birds with a stronger habitat.

Another group of birds have been shown to prefer burnt landscapes. Cameron A. Duqette, published an article in February 2020 called “Restored Fire and Grazing Regimes Influence Nest Selection and Survival in Brewer’s Blackbirds Euphagus cyanocephalus”. Duqette discusses how grassland fire suppression can cause many ecological changes that can increase fire intensity and cause ecological changes (Duqette, Pg. 1). As we continue to suppress natural wildfires, there is an increase in woody vegetation which reduces biodiversity (Duqette, Pg. 2). As species can’t get the nutrients they need to survive, they find other places to live or die off from malnutrition. In fire suppressed areas, there is a decline in population of most every species and a decline in the biodiversity. Duqette focused specifically on the population of Euphagus cyanocephalus, more commonly known as Brewer’s Blackbirds. Through observation, it was discovered that most Brewer’s Blackbird nests were located in fire burnt patches (Duqette, Pg. 9). It was also analyzed that the survival rate for Brewer’s Blackbirds was higher in the burnt areas (Duqette, Pg. 10). This suggests that the restored grassland disturbance regimes extend benefits to non-obligate taxa (Duqette, Pg. 10). It also shows that as society continues to suppress natural wildfires, woody vegetation increases which takes away needed nutrients for species.

Fires also have the ability to help create stable ecosystems that can withstand climate change and sustain more carbon. In June of 2020, Scott L Stephens released an article, “Fire and climate change: conserving seasonally dry forests is still possible”. In his research, he takes a look into the recent fires that have erupted in the western area of the united states this year and talks about how there is a greater long-term and more sustainable carbon storage along with increased water availability, adaptation to climate change and improved forest resilience (Stephens, Pg. 2). As regenerated plant species that recover from the fire become more efficient in sustaining carbon storage, we can expect to see a reduction of air pollution in years to come. It is important to note that these benefits are only met if timber production aligned better with fire management goals to achieve these co-benefits. The article also argues that by taking immediate action, we can promote a positive ecological outcome and that the seasonally dry forests should be the primary focus in order to make a difference (Stephens, Pg. 4). As forests become more stable through biodiversity and regeneration of species, these ecosystems can adapt better to climate change and sustain more carbon.

Wildfires can also help grow populations of endangered plants. In an article by Wade A. Wall, “Fire effects on the vital rates and stochastic population growth rate of the rare shrub Lindera subcoriacea Wofford”, we discover how an endangered species was able to gain a high survivorship in burned and unburned populations (Wall, Pg. 2). We can see that even in brush that is considered endangered, we can see a positive influence that fire has to support the species health and growth in burned areas.

Fires have also been shown to create more habitats for snakes. Jennifer M. Howze published an article, “The influence of prescribed fire on site selection in snakes in the long leaf pine ecosystem”. Howze found that most snake species were found in areas that had been burned within the last two years (Howze, Pg. 4). It was also determined that frequent fire can provide more foraging opportunities (Howze, Pg. 6). Fires can be used as an essential tool in order to restore and maintain the ecosystem. As post-fire areas allow for an open canopy structure, they can provide an increased land for biodiversity and a stronger forest.

Forests that have been burned are shown to have higher productivity and stable environmental conditions. In an article produced by Science Daily, “Diverse landscapes are more productive and adapt better to climate change” from the University of Zurich, also stated that ecosystems that have high biodiversity tend to be more productive (Oehri et al, Pg. 1). As these ecosystems are able to consistently get the nutrients they need to survive, they are able to obtain a more stable environment and can adapt to annual fluctuations in environmental conditions compared the ecosystems that have lower biodiversity (Oehri et al, Pg. 1). Environments that have this quality can adapt to climate-driven environmental changes which can end up saving many species (Oehri et al, Pg. 1). As our climate is rapidly changing, it is important to understand how our environment will adapt to these changes. By allowing natural wildfire to occur, we can increase biodiversity and decrease forest density in these areas. As biodiversity increases, we will be able to allow these environments to stand a chance against climate change.

Biodiversity is one of the most important qualities to a healthy and stable environment. In July of 2019, Tianhua He published as article, “Fire as a key driver of Earth’s biodiversity”. He describes how many regions that are subject to fire, produce higher levels of species richness and endemism (species that are only found in one geographic location) (He, Pg. 2). This creates an ecosystem that has resource availability and environmental heterogeneity (non-uniform land cover) (He, Pg. 2). As post-fire ecosystems continue to develop, the biodiversity increases. The most important finding from He, is that the biodiversity of these landscapes become stable (He, Pg. 21). Post-fire landscapes are able to maintain biodiversity, structure and function (He, Pg. 21). The article also shows strong evidence to support the pyrodiversity-biodiversity hypothesis which shows that fires can create landscape heterogeneity and cause resources to break up over the landscape in order to promote and maintain many plant functional types (He, Pg. 12). As the structure and function of forests improve, there will be an increase in the quality of life for many species as they will be able to obtain proper nutrients and have the ability to create a higher carrying capacity in their habitat.


A major concern with wildfire is the destructive nature it possesses. Fires have been known to wipe-out whole neighborhoods and omit dangerous toxins into the air which can affect our air quality. Although many people are afraid of fires burning through our home, there are ways to protect your home in-case a fire is in close proximity. Houses that burn down from wildfires have wooden roofs that are caught on fire by embers in the air. These houses catch fire, long before the fire even reaches their backyard. Wooden roofs have been around since the Europeans colonized America. This could explain why we view fire as destructive. It has been destroying our homes since as long as we can remember. Perhaps we are viewing wildfires wrong. Many people strategically plan how to control fire. Maybe, we need to start thinking about how to protect our homes instead. We can do something about the destructive nature of wildfire, it just doesn’t have anything to do with controlling the fire.

A podcast was published by Stephanie Joyce, “Built to Burn”. It was inspired by the research done from Jack Cohen who released an article called, “Reducing the Wildland Fire Threat To Homes: Where and how much?”. During the podcast, we hear from Cohen who explains his research and shares an interesting perspective on wildfires. The effects from the Panorama Fire have been observed throughout the past years. The fire destroyed homes and even took the life of four people. It was known as one of the worst fires in the history of California fires. Since the fire, it has become important to Cohen to study the behaviors of fire and the effects it can have on the ecosystem. While meeting with a team of emergency dispatch professionals, it was discovered that houses would begin to burn long before the fire wall approached the house (Cohen, Pg. 190). These houses were being caught on fire due to embers falling from the sky. The embers only caught on houses that had wooden roofs. In a development without wood roofs, houses survived. Cohen explains how some houses were built to burn. As it is recognized that fires have many beneficial qualities to the ecosystem, it is believed by researchers that the problem with wildfire is being the wrong way (Joyce, Pg. 3).

Before the colonization of Europeans, Native Americans used fire as a way to regenerate wild plants and create grasslands. They also recognized how fire increased biodiversity as it began to regrow (Joyce, Pg. 4). Native Americans used fire as a way to keep a healthy ecosystem and refused to suppress natural fires. As Europeans colonized, they brought the fear of fire along with them and we have continued to suppress fire; including natural ones (Joyce, Pg. 4). In early years, wildfires regularly burned through the forests in the united states. As these fires were able to naturally burn, the fires burned at a low intensity and stayed on the forest floor. These fires burned forest areas that needed to be regenerated. As we suppress fire, the forest density continues to increase and areas that were once rich in biodiversity, are filled with less species and grasslands that are harmed by grazing, unable to grow stronger. As these forests catch fire, they are now burned with high intensity. They are larger and hotter than ever before.

In the research article by Jack Cohen, it is discovered that an entire forest could burn only 30 feet away from a home that was built to withstand a fire and nothing would happen to the house (Cohen, Pg. 191). The experiment proved that when changes were made to protect the house, it would be much less likely to burn. It was concluded that it is possible to not control wildfire behavior and still have houses that survive (Cohen, Pg. 192). This proves that if homes near fire-prone areas were designed to withstand wildfire it may be possible to allow natural wildfires to continue to burn what it needs to in order to create stronger forests.

It’s also important to note another major concern with using fire to promote biodiversity is the immediate effect that it has to wildlife displacement. As large and intense fires burn through the forest, many species of animals can initially be harmed or displaced from their home. It can be upsetting to think about how the immediate species might be coping with the burning or their home. An article by Abigal Wallace, “What Happens To Wildlife During a Wildfire?”, we can see that most animals can sense the danger of wildfire approaching (Wallace, Pg. 1). This makes it possible for many wildlife to get away and avoid hazard (Wallace, Pg. 2). Other small animals are able to find shelter by burying themselves, taking shelter under rocks or in logs. (Wallace, Pg. 2).  Some species even benefit from the fire like the jack pine. The jack pine releases seeds during fires (Wallace, Pg. 2). These animals have all created their own way to avoid fires.

During the year of 2020, the Gosper Mountain fire in Australia burned over 1,200,100 acres of land. The fire started when a bolt struck the forest ground and it ignited into flames. The fire burned through a large part of Australia’s ecosystem. Researcher Victor Steffensen took an interest in the fire and wrote an article about his findings. Steffensen Published an article “Saving wildlife by fighting fire with better fire”. It was suggested that we can use better fire to maintain and restore the country (Steffensen, Pg. 2). While observing the behavior of fire, Steffensen also gained knowledge from the aboriginal culture. Aboriginal people use fire consistently in order to maintain ecosystems. Through studies, it was found that there is a specific time when fires must be used to maintain a strong and healthy ecosystem. If we spread knowledge about the useful qualities that fires have, we can insure that wildfire will burn with low intensity to protect many species and environments. It is also mentioned that wildlife in the area, anticipates and benefits from the fire-stick land management practices (Steffensen, Pg. 2). The fire can be both cleansing and restorative to the ecosystems.


            In order to address some issues regarding climate change, it may be important to add wildfires into the conversation. As wildfires continue to promote an increase in biodiversity, we can expect that these environments will also be able to have an increased productivity. After wildfires occur, these landscapes will also be able to grow back stronger as they will have an open canopy structure with less competition for nutrients. Many species will be able to thrive and grow healthier. As this happens, it is also important to note that the ecosystem will be able to better adapt to climate change as well as more sustainable carbon storage along with increased water availability. With this trend, we will also be able to see a reduction of air pollution throughout the years.

            As we continue to suppress fires, natural and needed fires are being eliminated from the entire equation to a healthy ecosystem. Many fire departments spend extreme efforts to put out even the smallest of fires or naturally needed ones. Moving forward, it is important to understand when fire is needed in an ecosystem to help create a healthier balance of biodiversity.


            Wildfires have long term beneficial qualities that are able to increase biodiversity, promote stronger/healthier forests, regenerate plant species and reduce forest density. It is important that we are able to recognize how fires benefit our ecosystem and by suppressing these fires, we are doing more harm than good. As we continue to prevent natural wildfires from burning, we are increasing forest density and decreasing biodiversity. This will lead to a larger and higher intensity burn that can be detrimental and harmful to species including the damage of our property. By allowing natural fires to occur, we will decrease the density of forest and increase healthy landscapes. If a natural fire were to ignite on land that had this proper nutrients, we would see a low intensity burn that burned swiftly and low to the ground. A fire like this would not cause damage to our homes or species in the area. Wildfires have been suppressed by our kind. I believe it is important to use fires as a tool instead of treating them like an enemy.


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