, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 345-354

Aspects of the reproductive ecology of four australian Hakea species (Proteaceae) in South Africa

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Summary

Four shrub species of the Australian Proteaceae (Hakea sericea, H. gibbosa, H. suaveolens and H. salicifolia) were introduced to South African fynbos shrublands between 1840 and 1860. H. sericea is highly invasive, H. gibbosa and H. suaveolens are moderately invasive and H. salicifolia is not invasive. The allocation of reproductive energy, germinability, the ability to survive fires and to germinate in burnt and unburnt areas, and the nutrient content of seeds were assessed for the four species. The information was used to investigate whether the success of H. sericea relative to the other three species could be explained by the superior expression of any trait. The most important trait which separates H. sericea from the other species is its ability to produce a large seed bank in its adopted environment in the absence of seed predators. Seed production in H. sericea shrubs with an above-ground dry mass of 8 kg is four times greater than H. gibbosa and more than 16 times that of H. suaveolens. Although H. salicifolia also produces a large seed bank, its seeds are unable to survive fires due to inadequate insulation by the small follicles. The results are compared to dispersal and seed bank data for indigenous South African Proteaceae, which have low dispersal and suffer high pre-dispersal seed predation. We suggest that potential invasives in the fynbos can be identified as species that have: (i) a potentially high seed production that is limited by specialized predators; (ii) an ability to disperse over long distances; and (iii) are pre-adapted to frequent fires and low soil nutrients. The data also support the current strategy of combatting H. sericea using specialized insect seed predators.