The fires raging in California and Oregon have been dramatic and devastating. It’s hard to imagine that they would bring anything positive to the table whatsoever, but for the native woodpeckers the fires are vital. They can’t survive without them. Woodpeckers are in turn crucial to many other species in an ecosystem evolved in harmony with the season bound fires.
The habitats of the black-backed woodpecker (Picoides articus) are rapidly declining as a consequence of exploitation such as clear-cut logging. The woodpecker seeks fire-damaged forest areas where the wildfires enabled them to find their favorite food - larvae of the black fire beetle. This particular beetle has sensors picking up heat from far distances. In that way the beetle finds trees still hot from recent fires and lay their eggs in them. Both the black fire beetle and the black-backed woodpecker are species living in harmony with conifers that have thick bark containing resins which protect them from the hot flames of the fires.
Why is the black-backed woodpecker so important to the ecosystem? Teresa Lorenz, biologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Washington, says in an interview with National Geographics that the woodpeckers are the ecosystem's engineers. Through its pecking, when searching for food and building nests, they create hideouts and nests for loads of different species. The woodpecker’s nests are particularly sought out because of their excellent protection against weather, wind and predators. Many animal species who take over woodpecker nests are herbivores and spread different seeds through their droppings. Seeds are “planted” and new plants can grow helping the forest to regenerate after a fire.
A healthy woodpecker population can support thousands of species. Scientists agree that woodpeckers are key species and signs of forest rich in biodiversity.