|Big brown bats|
Forest fires are both destructive and spectacular. Not quite up there with volcanoes or tsunamis, perhaps, but nonetheless pretty dramatic, wreaking havoc on the local environment. Human-caused fires, when they get out of control, can be very damaging to the ecosystem, which may take years to recover. Yet forest fires have been around since long before humans, and, for at least some forests, they are just a natural part of the cycle of life. Indeed, there are some plants whose seeds germinate specifically after a local wildfire. But how does this affect animal communities?
One such environment is that of sandhill forests. Sandhills are so named because of their sandy, well-drained soils, often dominated by ash, but (unlike the much more barren sand dunes) they support significant plant communities. In the southeast USA, between Virginia and eastern Texas, the dominant tree in these forests is the longleaf pine. Frequent fires are essential for this species to do well, and, left without fire for too long, the nature of the forests change dramatically, in this case being replaced by denser oak woodland.