Delayed post-fire seedling emergence linked to season: a case study with Leucopogon species (Epacridaceae)
In many fire-prone habitats around the world, natural fire regimes have shaped the evolution of the associated flora. Critical life history stages are often linked to fire in species that occur in these fire-prone habitats but many species are unstudied. We investigated seedling emergence patterns over time, after several fires in south-eastern Australia, for three obligate seeders in the Genus Leucopogon (Family Epacridaceae): L. setiger, L. esquamatus and L. exolasius. Fixed quadrats were monitored for 12 to 30 months for newly emerged seedlings, both after fire and in unburnt L. exolasius and L. esquamatus habitats. There was a flush of seedling emergence in the first year after fire for all three Leucopogon species, with smaller pulses recorded in subsequent years. Time elapsed between fire and the onset of emergence differed between fires, but not between Leucopogon species. Whatever the timing of the fire, seedling emergence was restricted to the late autumn and winter periods, coinciding with emergence in unburnt habitat. This contrasts with patterns of emergence previously reported for other taxa, and also in this study, where emergence of the Leucopogon species after fire was delayed compared with co-occurring species in other genera. Our results suggest that seasonal factors are important to the germination ecology of these species and that combinations of fire-related and seasonal factors are necessary to maximise germination. Rainfall has a non-seasonal pattern in the study region and seasonal emergence post-fire has not previously been recorded. The magnitude of delay to emergence of species with seasonal emergence patterns will be determined by the season of fire but not by a seasonal pattern of rainfall in the post-fire year. A shift of the peak fire season could increase this delay, possibly affecting plant population recovery.
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