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Fires can benefit plants by disrupting antagonistic interactions

García, Y., Castellanos, M. C., Pausas, J. G.
Oecologia 2016 v.182 no.4 pp. 1165-1173
Asphodelus, Ulex, ecosystems, fruit set, granivores, plant-insect relations, predators, seed predation, vegetation, wildfires
Fire has a key role in the ecology and evolution of many ecosystems, yet its effects on plant–insect interactions are poorly understood. Because interacting species are likely to respond to fire differently, disruptions of the interactions are expected. We hypothesized that plants that regenerate after fire can benefit through the disruption of their antagonistic interactions. We expected stronger effects on interactions with specialist predators than with generalists. We studied two interactions between two Mediterranean plants (Ulex parviflorus, Asphodelus ramosus) and their specialist seed predators after large wildfires. In A. ramosus we also studied the generalist herbivores. We sampled the interactions in burned and adjacent unburned areas during 2 years by estimating seed predation, number of herbivores and fruit set. To assess the effect of the distance to unburned vegetation we sampled plots at two distance classes from the fire perimeter. Even 3 years after the fires, Ulex plants experienced lower seed damage by specialists in burned sites. The presence of herbivores on Asphodelus decreased in burned locations, and the variability in their presence was significantly related to fruit set. Generalist herbivores were unaffected. We show that plants can benefit from fire through the disruption of their antagonistic interactions with specialist seed predators for at least a few years. In environments with a long fire history, this effect might be one additional mechanism underlying the success of fire-adapted plants.