Main content area

Clarifying the role of fire heat and daily temperature fluctuations as germination cues for Mediterranean Basin obligate seeders

Santana, Victor M., Baeza, M. Jaime, Blanes, M. Carmen
Annals of botany 2013 v.111 no.1 pp. 127-134
Cistus, Rosmarinus officinalis, Ulex, autumn, fires, germination, heat, microhabitats, seed dormancy, seedling emergence, seeds, soil, sowing, summer, temperature, vegetation, wet season
Background and Aims This study aims to determine the role that both direct effects of fire and subsequent daily temperature fluctuations play in the seed bank dynamics of obligate seeders from the Mediterranean Basin. The short yet high soil temperatures experienced due to passage of fire are conflated with the lower, but longer, temperatures experienced by daily fluctuations which occur after removing vegetation. These germination cues are able to break seed dormancy, but it is difficult to assess their specific level of influence because they occur consecutively after summer fires, just before the flush of germination in the wet season (autumn). Methods By applying experimental fires, seed treatments were imposed that combined fire exposure/non-fire exposure with exposure to microhabitats under a gradient of disturbance (i.e. gaps opened by fire, mechanical brushing and intact vegetation). The seeds used were representative of the main families of obligate seeders (Ulex parviflorus , Cistus albidus and Rosmarinus officinalis). Specifically, an assessment was made of (1) the proportion of seeds killed by fire, (2) seedling emergence under field conditions and (3) seeds which remained ungerminated in soil. Key Results For the three species studied, the factors that most influenced seedling emergence and seeds remaining ungerminated were microhabitats with higher temperature fluctuations after fire (gaps opened by fire and brushing treatments). The direct effect of fire decreased the seedling emergence of U. parviflorus and reduced the proportion of seeds of R. officinalis remaining ungerminated. Conclusions The relevance of depleting vegetation (and subsequent daily temperature fluctuation in summer) suggests that studies focusing on lower temperature thresholds for breaking seed dormancy are required. This fact also supports the hypothesis that the seeding capacity in Mediterranean Basin obligate seeders may have evolved as a response to a wide range of disturbances, and not exclusively to fire.