Plant Biome Dynamics
Date: Spring 2011
Why don't pine trees invade and take over fire-prone grasslands?
Here is a link to an overview about fire ecology:
In general, fires remove woody plants such as pine trees and promotes
the growth of herbaceous lants such as grasses.
Anthony R. Brach, PhD
Missouri Botanical Garden c/o Harvard University Herbaria
Your question provides an important part of its own answer: in general
pine trees, especially seedlings, are very vulnerable to damage by
fire and if they do manage to take root will likely not survive.
But it is far more complex than that. Climate, topography and other
environmental factors will influence the frequency of fire and the
establishment of different vegetation types. Relationship between
vegetation and herbivores also plays a part, bison on the Great Plains
probably played a major role in maintenance of prairie types. Some
southern pines respond positively to fire. Each ecotype must be
analyzed separately and there is much about these complex
relationships we still don't fully understand.
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Update: June 2012