Meat-eating plants need carefully managed fire to survive

The ‘Dewy Pine’ isn’t your average pine tree: it’s a carnivorous plant, adapted to catching and digesting insects to survive.

But it thrives on fire—so suppressing fires (to protect nearby houses, for example) might be pushing the plant to extinction, according to an international team of scientists.

Curtin University’s Dr Adam Cross and colleagues at the University of Cadiz, Spain, examined the seed biology of the ‘Dewy Pine’ (Drosophyllum lusitanicum), focusing particularly on the role of fire in its life cycle.

“We found the Dewy Pine’s seeds need the heat from fire to germinate, but they are quite picky when it comes to temperature,” Adam says.

“The seeds won’t germinate if the temperature is too low and are killed if the heat is too intense.”

The team’s research showed that, like many plants in Western Australia, the species only reproduces in large numbers after low-intensity fires in summer.

This means that for many plants, fire suppression and prescribed burns in the wrong season can be deadly.

“Fire needs to be managed more appropriately if we are to avoid the extinction of this and other incredible species,” Adam says.

“We need to start thinking of new ways to manage fire for both safety and biodiversity conservation, balancing the protection of lives and homes with protecting our unique biodiversity.”

Image: Adam and his team have found the seeds of the carnivorous plant are quite picky about the temperature they need to germinate. Credit: Curtin University

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