Seed tolerance to heating is better predicted by seed dormancy than by habitat type in Neotropical savanna grasses
Open savannas and wet grasslands are present under the same seasonal macro-climate in central Brazil. However, in open savannas, temperatures during fires are higher than in wet grasslands. Grasses dominate both ecosystems and exhibit large variation in seed dormancy. We hypothesise that seeds of grass species from open savannas are more tolerant to heating than those of wet grasslands. Also, assuming that dormant seeds remain longer in the soil than non-dormant seeds - thus being more likely to burn - we expect that dormant seeds are more tolerant to heating than non-dormant seeds. We tested the effects of heating at 80 and 110°C for 2.5 and 5.0min on the survival of seeds of 14 species, seven from each community, containing dormant and non-dormant species. Seeds of most species survived at 80°C, but seeds from open savannas maintained greater survival for 5min than seeds from wet grasslands. Seeds of most species died at 110°C, but dormant seeds survived more than non-dormant seeds. We conclude that species with seed dormancy experience selection for covarying characteristics that allow tolerance to heating in hotter fires. Our findings suggest that both seed dormancy and habitat-specific fire temperatures may contribute to the evolution of seed fire tolerance in Neotropical savannas.
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