Imagine a rainforest at dawn – the tall canopy laden with dripping ferns and orchids, tree trunks covered in spongy mosses and lichens, and the morning mist only slowly burning away as the sun rises. While there is fuel everywhere, it seems unimaginable that such humid ecosystems could ever catch fire.
And without human intervention, they don’t. The charcoal record points towards infrequent fires in the Amazon even during periods of pre-Columbian human settlement, and the 8,000 or more Amazonian tree species have none of the evolutionary adaptations to fire found in their savanna or boreal cousins.
But, with thousands of fires currently burning across the Amazon, it’s worth looking at how these wildfires behave. In this context, a “wildfire” is one which has gone out of control, even if started by humans. What do they mean for a forest that …