Sprouting success of shrubs after fire: height-dependent relationships for different strategies
The sprouting success of co-occurring populations of shrub species in a temperate woodland of semi-arid Australia was investigated and related to population survival strategies. Straw was added to 21 × 15 m plots in the woodland, burnt and the pre-fire characteristics of shrubs were used to determine the basis for sprouting success. Species differed widely (4–94%) in sprouting success; a high percentage of established seedlings of all species were killed by fire but survival increased with height reaching a maximum at 25–60 cm (depending on the species). Thickness of bark at stem bases increased with height growth but sprouting success was not related to bark thickness; sprouting success of shrubs at similar thickness varied greatly between species. All species were able to initiate sprouts after cutting through their basal stems, so lack of active meristems was not a limitation. Species differed in the height at which shrubs began flowering but this was always after maximum sprouting success was reached. It is proposed that differences between individual shrubs in supply of nutrients, carbohydrates, and/or water to activated meristems would account for patterns of in ter- and intra-specific sprouting success. The data are consistent with recognised fire survival strategies. `Sprouters', the species relying more on sprouting than recruitment for population persistence, maintained maximum sprouting success with height growth and gained sprouting ability along stems once they reached 1 m in height. In contrast, `non-sprouters', the species largely relying on recruitment from seed to maintain populations, were either not able to sprout after seedling establishment or steadily lost the ability to maintain sprouts with growth beyond 60 cm and did not develop axillary buds along stems at any height.
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