Evidence for physiological seed dormancy cycling in the woody shrub Asterolasia buxifolia and its ecological significance in fire-prone systems
© 2020 German Society for Plant Sciences and The Royal Botanical Society of the Netherlands Dormancy cycling is a key mechanism that contributes to the maintenance of long-term persistent soil seed banks, but has not been recorded in long-lived woody shrub species from fire-prone environments. Such species rely on seed banks and dormancy break as important processes for post-fire recruitment and recovery. We used germination experiments with smoke treatments on fresh seeds and those buried for 1 year (retrieved in spring) and 1.5 years (retrieved the following late autumn) to investigate whether Asterolasia buxifolia, a shrub from fire-prone south-eastern Australia with physiologically dormant seeds, exhibited dormancy cycling. All seeds had an obligation for winter seasonal temperatures and smoke to promote germination, even after ageing in the soil. A high proportion of germination was recorded from fresh seeds. but germination after the first retrieval was significantly lower, despite high seed viability. After the second retrieval, germination returned to the initial level. This indicates a pattern of annual dormancy cycling; one of the few observations, to our knowledge, for a perennial species. Additionally, A. buxifolia’s winter temperature and smoke requirements did not change over time, highlighting the potential for seeds to remain conditionally dormant (i.e. restricted to a narrow range of germination conditions) for long periods. For physiologically dormant species, such as A. buxifolia, we conclude that dormancy cycling is an important driver of successful regeneration, allowing seed bank persistence, sometimes for decades, during fire-free periods unsuitable for successful recruitment, while ensuring that a large proportion of seeds are available for recruitment when a fire occurs.