The coupling of recruitment and disturbance by fire in two resprouting Proteaceae species
Recruitment in plant populations is often tightly coupled to major disturbances such as fires. For species with persistent seed banks, fire-related cues may allow or enhance germination. The litter layer influences germination and may modify the impact of seed predators on seeds and seedlings. The litter layer is obviously affected by fire, providing one mechanism by which disturbance can determine recruitment. We tested the role of litter in the disturbance–recruitment coupling of two species with contrasting seed release timing after fire—Banksia serrata (canopy seed bank) and Telopea speciosissima (transient seed bank) by planting their seeds both early and late in the post-fire recruitment period (PRP) and manipulating litter density in orthogonal treatments. Vertebrate seed predators were excluded. Both species established more seedlings late in the PRP, although results were strongly influenced by very poor establishment at one site. Invertebrate seed predators consumed more T. speciosissima seeds in sites early (69.5%) than late in the PRP (51.2%), while consumption of B. serrata seeds was lower overall and comparable across sites (average 47.3%). Surprisingly, litter had very little effect on establishment and none on invertebrate seed predation, suggesting that other factors are more important. Recruitment was only loosely coupled to disturbance for the canopy seed bank species; for the transient seed bank species, the coupling was tighter but separated in time from the disturbance. Understanding both the strength and temporal aspects of the disturbance–recruitment coupling is necessary for appropriate management of plant functional diversity in fire-prone habitats.