SR15 How does prescribed burning in temperate and boreal forests affect biodiversity?

How does managed burning in forests affect species that do not directly depend on fire or the dead wood that fires provide? Mistra EviEM examines the evidence from a recently completed systematic map on biodiversity effects of active management in forest set-asides.

A forest fire in progress. Copyright: Dmytro Gilitukha, from iStockphoto

Review status


A need for regular fires

Many forests are thought to require regular fire regimes in order to allow fire-dependent species to grow and reproduce. Prescribed fires are also beneficial since they reduce the chances of catastrophic, uncontrollable wild fires by removing highly combustible scrubby vegetation. This type of management is common in many temperate and boreal forests, where the forests are managed in a variety of ways in an attempt to promote good tree growth, enhance biodiversity, reduce undesirable species, and ensure a healthy ecosystem.

The benefits of prescribed burning have been well-studied, and in general, the evidence agrees that the intervention is beneficial for species that need fire and good for forest biodiversity in the short-term. However, there has been little consensus on the impacts of prescribed burning on species that do not require fire and on forest systems over longer periods.

In 2014-2015, EviEM produced a systematic map of available evidence on how various kinds of conservation interventions affect biodiversity in forest set-asides (see the SR6 review). We identified more than 800 studies that addressed this issue. Of these studies, 227 examined the impacts of prescribed burning. EviEM will now conduct a full systematic review into the impacts of prescribed burning of temperate and boreal forests on species that are not saproxylic (those that depend on dead wood) and not pyrophilous species (those that requires fire to complete their life cycles). Instead it will focus on other species and will summarise reported effects of such interventions on all kinds of species except the trees themselves.

We will summarise reported effects of such interventions on all kinds of species except the trees themselves.

The aim of the review is to identify whether and how biodiversity of boreal and temperate forest set-asides is affected by prescribed burning. A secondary objective is to determine what conditions increase or decrease its effectiveness.

Review team

The review will be undertaken by a core Working Group of methodologists, and they will be supported by an Advisory Team of experts in the subject and methodology of the review and reviewing in general.

Working group

Jacqualyn Eales, (Project manager), Research Consultant, UK, on behalf of EviEM
Neal Haddaway, (Project manager), EviEM, Stockholm, Sweden
Jessica Taylor, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
Steve Cooke, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Advisory team

Gill Petrokofsky, Oxford University, Oxford, the UK
Bengt Gunnar (Bege) Jonsson, Mid Sweden University, Sundsvall, Sweden
Jari Kouki, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
Claes Bernes, EviEM, Stockholm, Sweden


The review team, November 2016. From left to right: Jari Kouki, Neal Haddaway, Gill Petrokofsky, Bengt Gunnar (Bege) Jonsson, Jacqualyn Eales, Jessica Taylor, Claes Bernes. Photo: Sif Johansson.