Long inter-fire intervals do not guarantee a large seed bank in a serotinous shrub (Banksia spinulosa Sm.)
© 2020 British Ecological Society It is often assumed that long-lived woody perennials with canopy-stored seed banks steadily accumulate seeds over time since fire. Trends in flowering and fruiting have usually been inferred from synchronic studies of sites of different post-fire ages or counting stored seeds in apparent age classes, and mostly in obligate-seeder species. Long-term longitudinal studies on a broader range of species are needed to fully understand the dynamics of flower and fruit production and accumulation of viable seeds. Key questions are as follows: What is the annual trend in flowering and cone production? Is this matched by accumulation of cones and seeds? How is seed germinability related to cone age at the time of a fire? We counted inflorescences and tagged cones produced annually by the resprouting shrub Banksia spinulosa in 315 plants over 13 years at one site and in 46 plants over 20 years at another. At the end of the study, we harvested all accumulated cones, burned them and assessed seed viability using germination trials. We detected enormous inter-plant variation in reproductive effort and output. 50% of inflorescences was produced by only 10%–15% of plants. There was a potential for accumulation of massive seed banks. However, (a) only 8%–10% of inflorescences became cones; (b) only 44%–50% of these were retained until harvest; (c) many retained cones suffered seed predation; and (d) viability of retained seeds declined with cone age. The result of these processes meant that the accumulated seed bank was only two to four seeds per plant, 82%–94% of the viable seeds had been produced in 6 years prior to harvest and only 12%–26% of plants contributed to this viable seed bank. Synthesis: Cone and seed losses and declining seed viability in B. spinulosa mean that almost all viable seeds come from the past few years of flowering even though apparently intact cones may be retained for decades. If this is typical for resprouting serotinous shrubs, it is important to understand trends in flowering and fruit set over time because the magnitude of recruitment will depend on fecundity in the few years prior to a fire.