Effect of fire on hard-coated Cistaceae seed banks and its influence on techniques for quantifying seed banks
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The impact of fire on hard-coated Cistaceae (Halimium ocymoides, Cistus ladanifer, and C. salvifolius) soil seed banks in a Mediterranean 'maquis' shrubland, and its effect on seed germinability were studied. The study also contrasts the effectiveness of two widely used techniques for quantifying seed banks, the seedling emergence and the physical separation methods, in relation to fire. The null hypothesis that a massive enhancement of physically-dormant Cistaceae seed germination by fire would make use of the time-consuming physical separation technique unnecessary was tested. Fire reduced Cistaceae seed banks in the 0–2 cm deep soil layer by both seed fire-consumption and lethal temperatures, revealed by the significant decreasing of the seed bank density and by the increase of apparently-intact but soft-unviable seeds, respectively. In contrast, no damage was recorded in the 2–5 cm soil layer. A dramatic seed bank depletion (> 90%) in both soil layers was recorded one year after fire in the burnt area, coinciding with a significant increase of seedling density confined to the first post-fire year. The ecological consequences of this massive post-fire seed bank input are discussed. A germinability test revealed that germination of surviving Cistaceae seeds was significantly enhanced in all cases except for the C. salvifolious seed bank in the deeper soil layer. However, final germination levels (60–75%) did not correspond to the magnitude of seed bank depletion, especially for C. salvifolious, which suggests that other environmental factors not exclusively associated with fire may also be important in softening Cistaceae seeds. Germination enhancement by fire soil-heating was not high enough to reject the physical separation technique, at least in the deeper soil layer. The simultaneous use of both seedling emergence and physical separation is recommended for reliable seed bank estimates when a physically-dormant hard-seeded component can be expected in the soil, as in many Mediterranean ecosystems, regardless of fire occurrence.
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