PALEOECOLOGY

Fire and grassland evolution

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Science  07 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6419, pp. 1125
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6419.1125-a

Fire feedback explains the Miocene expansion of the grassland biome.

PHOTO: RICHARD DU TOIT/MINDEN PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

Global grassland underwent a massive expansion in the late Miocene epoch, 5 million to 8 million years ago. Karp et al. examined the role of fire in this expansion, through measurements of fire-derived hydrocarbons and grass-diagnostic carbon isotopes in sediments in Pakistan. They found evidence of a simultaneous increase in seasonality of precipitation and the occurrence of regular fire along with the opening of the landscape and the expansion of grasslands. Their results indicate that a grassland-fire feedback system was a key driver in the expansion of grasslands, a relationship that has remained an integral feature of this ecosystem ever since.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 115, 12130 (2018).

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