Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Why Fort McMurray’s Forest Burns

Author: Francesca Fuoco

The fire raging Fort McMurray in Alberta was the cause of great despair as 90 000 people had to evacuate their homes. The fire has torched over 1000 km2 and is expected to continue to burn over the next weeks. The forest continues to burn because the Boreal forest surrounding Fort McMurray has adapted to depend on fire for growth.

In essence, these trees need to burn to grow. Even the physical characteristics of the trees, such as branching arrangement, are adapted for easy ignition. The spruce and pine trees making up the forest have serotinous cones which open up after a fire to release their seeds. After a fire burns through a forest, the fire removes the competing trees, shrubs, and mosses. The soil is bare and it thus becomes easier for the seeds to thrive. The pine and spruce species then become the pioneers of the new forest and ecological succession brings about new biodiversity. The fire in Fort McMurray, whether caused by humans or nature, is an important part of the forest’s life cycle.

Watch the video by CrashCourse to learn more about ecological succession.

Click here to follow CBC news for the latest on the fire.

Francesca Fuoco is a 4th year undergraduate student in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. She is currently studying with the goal of teaching Science at the High School level. Francesca is interested in promoting the development of scientific literacy skills among her students by engaging them in learning activities which aim to study how Science affects our society and vice-versa.

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