FUNCIONAL: Functional response of plant communities to fire: the past as a laboratory for producing useful evidence in the face of current global change.
Current global change is accelerating changes in terrestrial processes resulting in rapid ecosystem transformations. One such change is the alteration of the fire regime, driven by increasing warming together with reduced management of available biomass due to widespread rural abandonment on a global scale. In this sense, it is useful to measure the characteristics of ecosystems that can offer some capacity to adapt to these changes, to analyse their dynamism and evolution over time, and finally to define thresholds of basal functioning, beyond which ecosystems may loose resilience. It is precisely in this area, functional ecology, that this proposal develops. We present a conceptual, numerical and applied framework that integrates changes in the functional traits of Iberian plant communities during the Holocene (last 11 000 years) with the fire variability during this period. FUNCIONAL aims to test the hypothesis that the functional expression of plant communities in the Mediterranean region of Iberia are driven by plant trait selection on centennial time scales, which favours survival after fire. In contrast, Eurosiberian ecosystems in Iberia would exhibit functional traits that do not favour post-fire survival.
To test this hypothesis, environmental data available in public repositories (EPD, IPN, TRY and CHELSA) will be combined with high-resolution data that will be analyzed during the duration of this proposal. These data will be used to translate fossil pollen abundances from Iberian records to fire-related functional traits and to assess their change according to recorded fire and temperature variability during the Holocene. To this end, a numerical framework will be generated that integrates estimates of the distribution of functional traits at the level of individual taxa and the whole community. In addition, we aim to produce a dynamic visualisation environment in which the evolution of fires in the past is simulated to generate different scenarios in order to give rise to the changes in functional traits reconstructed in our work.
The simulation results will be implemented in a mobile application that facilitates the visualisation of the changes dynamically when the viewer selects specific areas from all the studied sites available in the database. In addition, a dissemination programe will be carried out to provide the public and institutions with a more accurate understanding of how fire, in addition to being an environmental hazard today, has been a fundamental element in shaping Mediterranean ecosystems as we know them.
To date, there has been no other proposal like FUNCIONAL in the Iberian Peninsula that seeks to analyse functional ecology hypotheses in the fossil record. That is why we consider FUNCIONAL an innovative proposal whose results will be applicable to various eco-geo-environmental disciplines.