Fire Seasonality, Seasonal Temperature Cues, Dormancy Cycling, and Moisture Availability Mediate Post-fire Germination of Species With Physiological Dormancy

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Frontiers in Plant Science


Fire seasonality (the time of year of fire occurrence) has important implications for a wide range of demographic processes in plants, including seedling recruitment. However, the underlying mechanisms of fire-driven recruitment of species with physiological seed dormancy remain poorly understood, limiting effective fire and conservation management, with insights hampered by common methodological practices and complex dormancy and germination requirements. We sought to identify the mechanisms that regulate germination of physiologically dormant species in nature and assess their sensitivity to changes in fire seasonality. We employed a combination of laboratory-based germination trials and burial-retrieval trials in natural populations of seven species of Boronia (Rutaceae) to characterize seasonal patterns in dormancy and fire-stimulated germination over a 2-year period and synthesized the observed patterns into a conceptual model of fire seasonality effects on germination. The timing and magnitude of seedling emergence was mediated by seasonal dormancy cycling and seasonal temperature cues, and their interactions with fire seasonality, the degree of soil heating expected during a fire, and the duration of imbibition. Primary dormancy was overcome within 4–10 months’ burial and cycled seasonally. Fire-associated heat and smoke stimulated germination once dormancy was alleviated, with both cues required in combination by some species. For some species, germination was restricted to summer temperatures (a strict seasonal requirement), while others germinated over a broader seasonal range of temperatures but exhibited seasonal preferences through greater responses at warmer or cooler temperatures. The impacts of fires in different seasons on germination can vary in strength and direction, even between sympatric congeners, and are strongly influenced by moisture availability (both the timing of post-fire rainfall and the duration soils stay moist enough for germination). Thus, fire seasonality and fire severity (via its effect on soil heating) are expected to significantly influence post-fire emergence patterns in these species and others with physiological dormancy, often leading to “germination interval squeeze.” Integration of these concepts into current fire management frameworks is urgently required to ensure best-practice conservation. This is especially pertinent given major, ongoing shifts in fire seasonality and rainfall patterns across the globe due to climate change and increasing anthropogenic ignitions.

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Australian Research Council



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