Combined effects of heat shock, smoke and darkness on germination of Epacris stuartii Stapf., an endangered fire-prone Australian shrub
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- Keith, D. Oecologia (1997) 112: 340. doi:10.1007/s004420050318
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Epacris stuartii (Epacridaceae) is an endangered heathland shrub in which seedling recruitment occurs almost exclusively after fire. Seed viability and multiple seed dormancy mechanisms were examined to explore why levels of seedling recruitment were low after some fires, despite high rates of pre-fire seed production. The individual and combined effects of heat shock, smoke derivatives and darkness on germination were tested in the laboratory using an orthogonal logit-linear model, a form of analysis ideally suited to hypotheses concerning multiple germination cues. Seed viability (56%) was found not to be limiting. After 89 days of incubation, germination was significantly enhanced by heat shock, smoke treatment and continuous darkness but there were no significant interactions. These effects were equal in magnitude and additive such that maximum germination (42% of viable seeds) was stimulated when all three treatments were combined, significantly less germination occurred in response to any two treatments combined (22–23%), any single treatment stimulated germination at levels (10–11%) significantly less than two treatments and the lowest levels of germination occurred among untreated seeds (4%). Relative to the untreated control, germination was stimulated by smoke derivatives in high concentrations but not in low concentrations. The effect of darkness diminished with time so that after 270 days of incubation darkness had no significant effect on germination, while heat and smoke still enhanced germination significantly, additively and interchangeably. More prolonged germination of seeds exposed to light on the soil surface than buried seed may spread the risk of desiccation of emerging seedlings over multiple rainfall events. The role of heat and smoke derivates suggests that fire management is a crucial tool for influencing seedling recruitment and hence the survival of E. stuartii at its only known location.