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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: January 2012

10 - Fire and the Origins of Mediterranean-type Vegetation

from Section III - Comparative Ecology, Evolution and Management


The mediterranean-type climate (MTC) is widely agreed to have been in place in all five MTC regions since at least the late Pliocene (see Fig. 9.1), ~2 Ma, with much of the contemporary mediterranean-type vegetation (MTV) present and contributing to a highly fire-prone environment. There is far less agreement on: (1) the timing of the origin of the MTC, (2) the timing of and factors responsible for the origins of MTV, and (3) the paleohistory of fire and extent to which it has played a role in the origins of MTV. Ample evidence exists to suggest a much earlier origin of MTC and MTV.

A widely held paradigm is that many of the woody sclerophylls that comprise MTV are much older than the Pliocene and thus have not adapted to contemporary fire-prone MTC conditions (Axelrod 1989; Herrera 1992; Verdú et al. 2003; Ackerly 2004a). Most of these have origins in the Tertiary Period of the early Cenozoic and are viewed as relictual taxa that represent evolutionary inertia and are present today merely by chance avoidance of random extinctions.