Can trophic rewilding reduce the impact of fire in a more flammable world?

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Large vertebrates affect fire regimes in several ways: by consuming plant matter that would otherwise accumulate as fuel; by controlling and varying the density of vegetation; and by engineering the soil and litter layer. These processes can regulate the frequency, intensity and extent of fire. The evidence for these effects is strongest in environments with intermediate rainfall, warm temperatures and graminoid-dominated ground vegetation. Probably, extinction of Quaternary megafauna triggered increased biomass burning in many such environments. Recent and continuing declines of large vertebrates are likely to be significant contributors to changes in fire regimes and vegetation that are currently being experienced in many parts of the world. To date, rewilding projects that aim to restore large herbivores have paid little attention to the value of large animals in moderating fire regimes. Rewilding potentially offers a powerful tool for managing the risks of wildfire and its impacts on natural and human values.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Trophic rewilding: consequences for ecosystems under global change’.

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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B