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Fire-mediated germination syndromes in Leucadendron (Proteaceae) and their functional correlates

Newton, R.J., Mackenzie, B.D.E., Lamont, B.B., Gomez-Barreiro, P., Cowling, R.M. and He, T.ORCID: 0000-0002-0924-3637 (2021) Fire-mediated germination syndromes in Leucadendron (Proteaceae) and their functional correlates. Oecologia, 196 (2). pp. 589-604.

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A mechanistic understanding of fire-driven seedling recruitment is essential for effective conservation management of fire-prone vegetation, such as South African fynbos, especially with rare and threatened taxa. The genus Leucadendron (Proteaceae) is an ideal candidate for comparative germination studies, comprising 85 species with a mixture of contrasting life-history traits (killed by fire vs able to resprout; serotinous vs geosporous) and seed morphologies (nutlets vs winged achenes). Individual and combined effects of heat and smoke on seed germination of 40 species were quantified in the laboratory, and Bayesian inference applied to distinguish biologically meaningful treatment effects from non-zero, but biologically trivial, effects. Three germination syndromes were identified based on whether germination was dependent on, enhanced by, or independent of direct fire cues (heat and smoke). Seed storage location was the most reliable predictor of germination syndromes, with soil-stored seeds c. 80% more likely to respond to direct fire cues (primarily smoke) than canopy-stored seeds. Notable exceptions were L. linifolium, with an absolute requirement for smoke to germinate (the third serotinous species so reported), and two other serotinous species with smoke-enhanced germination. Nutlet-bearing species, whether serotinous or geosporous, were c. 70% more likely to respond to fire cues than winged seeds, but there was no evidence for an effect of phylogeny or persistence strategy on germination. This comprehensive account of seed germination characteristics and identification of germination syndromes and their predictors, supports propagation, conservation and restoration initiatives in this iconic fynbos genus and other fire-prone shrubs with canopy or soil-stored seeds.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Springer
Copyright: © The Author(s) 2021
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