, Volume 145, Issue 1, pp 91-99

Role of heat tolerance and cone protection of seeds in the response of three pine species to wildfires

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Abstract

The post-fire regenerative ability of Pinus halepensis, Pinus nigra and Pinus sylvestris, three of the most important pine species present in the West Mediterranean basin, has been analyzed in the light of seed tolerance to different temperatures and times of exposure, and of seed position during the fire event (seeds inside cones versus free seeds). The combination of different fire intensities and degrees of seed protection allows us to draw different scenarios during the fire event: canopy scenarios (seeds inside cones), surface scenarios (seeds on the ground surface), and soil scenarios (seeds in the top soil layers). There were interspecific differences in the pattern of cone opening under the different heat treatments: cones of P. nigra and P. sylvestris showed similar percentages of opening, but considerably higher than those of P. halepensis. In the three species, seeds inside cones showed higher percentages of germination than those that were free, emphasizing the important role of cones in the protection of pine seeds from high temperatures. The percentage of germination decreased when both the temperature and the time of exposure increased, and there was also a significant species effect: P. halepensis showed higher germination rates than P. nigra, and both were higher than P. sylvestris. The overall scores of seed germination of these three pine species under the conditions tested suggests that their regeneration after fire should come either from the soil bank, or from the canopy bank, but rarely from the ground surface. As the existence of a permanent seed bank in Mediterranean pines is probably limited or nil, pine recruitment after fire appears to be mainly controlled by the existence of a canopy seed bank. The contribution of this canopy bank to the differences in postfire regeneration success of the three pine species is discussed in the light of their seeding phenology and the effects of fire severity on cone opening. The results obtained in this study contribute to explain the successful regeneration of P. halepensis, and the failure of P. nigra and P. sylvestris after fire.