Big or small, gradual or sudden, change rhythmically punctuates human life. In the natural world, change is just as intrinsic and pattern-based. Seasonal fluctuations in temperature, shifts in sunlight and natural disturbances, like fire, are all part of nature’s cycle.

Most people resist change, especially change they consider destructive. Perhaps that’s why uncontrolled wildfires have been suppressed since the early 1900s. Fire can be damaging, and its effects certainly scar once verdant landscapes.

But this destruction can also prove beneficial. In recent decades, ecologists and land managers have realized more fully how important fire is to the natural patterns of many ecosystems. This pattern, known as a “fire regime,” is different for each ecosystem. Each fire regime is important to maintaining forest and grassland health, even if it seems harmful at first glance. Of course, no species is adapted to live in fire itself, but animals and plants can adapt to a fire regime.

A fire regime includes, among other things, fire frequency, fire intensity and patterns of fuel consumption. Plants have a distinct disadvantage, compared to animals, in the face of fires. They can’t run, fly, creep or crawl out of a fire’s path. But they have adapted to survive, and even depend on, regular fire.

From armoring themselves with thick bark to developing ways to protect precious seeds, trees have developed several fascinating adaptations in response to a predictable fire pattern.

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