Publication Details

Ooi, M. K. J., Denham, A. J., Santana, V. M. & Auld, T. D. (2014). Temperature thresholds of physically dormant seeds and plant functional response to fire: variation among species and relative impact of climate change. Ecology and Evolution, 4 (5), 656-671.


Variation in dormancy thresholds among species is rarely studied but may provide a basis to better understand the mechanisms controlling population persistence. Incorporating dormancy-breaking temperature thresholds into existing trait frameworks could improve predictions regarding seed bank persistence, and subsequently species resilience in response to fire, climate change and anthropogenic management. A key ecological strategy for many species from fire-prone ecosystems is the possession of a long-lived seed bank, ensuring recovery after fire. Physical dormancy is dominant in these ecosystems and maintaining this dormancy is directly linked to seed bank persistence. We identified a suite of seed-related factors relevant to maintaining populations in fire-prone regions for 14 co-occurring physically dormant species. We measured variation in initial levels of dormancy and then applied experimental heating treatments, based on current seasonal temperatures and those occurring during fires, to seeds of all study species. Additionally, higher seasonal temperature treatments were applied to assess response of seeds to temperatures projected under future climate scenarios. Levels of germination response and mortality were determined to assess how tightly germination response was bound to either fire or seasonal cues. Six species were found to have dormancy cues bound to temperatures that only occur during fires (80°C and above) and were grouped as having obligate pyrogenic dormancy release. The remaining species, classified as having facultative pyrogenic dormancy, had lower temperature dormancy thresholds and committed at least 30% of seeds to germinate after summer-temperature treatments. Evidence from this study supports including dormancy-breaking temperature thresholds as an attribute for identifying functional types. High temperature thresholds for breaking dormancy, found in our obligate pyrogenic group, appear to be a fire-adapted trait, while we predict that species in the facultative group are most at risk to increased seed bank decay resulting from elevated soil temperatures under projected climate change.

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