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Season of fire influences seed dispersal by wind in a serotinous obligate seeding tree

Abstract

In temperate ecosystems, fire management involving prescribed burning and wildfire suppression often causes a shift in fire season from hot and dry summer conditions to cooler, moister conditions in spring or autumn. The effects of this change on seed dispersal by wind after fire are unknown. However, calmer wind conditions and increased standing vegetation after fires in cooler seasons may reduce seed dispersal following fire. We studied seed dispersal in different seasons for a serotinous obligate-seeder, Callitris verrucosa, growing in a semi-arid environment in South Australia. We measured primary (wind-borne) and secondary (on-ground) seed dispersal during spring, summer and autumn, using empirical observations and modelling based on detailed measurement of wind characteristics. At comparable horizontal wind speeds, primary dispersal was greater in summer compared to spring and autumn. Secondary dispersal was similarly short in all three seasons when vegetation cover was high, but when cover was low, seeds travelled much further in summer than in the other two seasons. A shift in the seasonal timing of seed release can decrease dispersal distances of serotinous obligate seeders, which is likely to reduce gene flow and the ability to colonise new sites. This can lead to changes in population and community structures which may further affect fire patterns. These findings could be applicable to other serotinous obligate seeding plant species found in other families such as Proteaceae, Myrtaceae, Pinaceae and Cupressaceae.

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Data accessibility

The data of this study have been published in AEKOS under the https://doi.org/10.4227/05/589007bda7528.

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Acknowledgements

The field work was carried out under research permits from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (A25784-2 and A25784-3) and completed with the help of many volunteers. Oliver Tackenberg provided access to PAPPUS software and assisted with its application together with Felix Heydel. Dale Burzacott provided valuable help with field gear, and Joe Tilley, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Pt. Lincoln, provided logistical support in the field, and Pawel Skuza provided statistical advice.

Funding

This study was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), SA Native Vegetation Council, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and the Nature Foundation of SA.

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Correspondence to Bianca Dunker.

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Communicated by E.T.F Witkowski.

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Dunker, B., Bull, C.M., Keith, D.A. et al. Season of fire influences seed dispersal by wind in a serotinous obligate seeding tree. Plant Ecol 220, 405–416 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-019-00923-2

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Keywords

  • Callitris verrucosa
  • Fire intensity
  • Gene flow
  • Prescribed burning
  • Turbulence
  • Wind speed