Effects of leaf litter on woody seedlings in xeric successional communities

Abstract

We investigated the effect of leaf litter on the establishment of Eucalyptus incrassata, a mallee eucalypt. It has been suggested that litter accumulation may hinder seedling establishment, and that the removal of litter may be one of the mechanisms through which fire enhances recruitment. We conducted factorial experiments testing the effects of three kinds of leaf litter on E. incrassata seeds and seedlings at three contiguous sites with different land use histories. One site was an uncleared E. incrassata open mallee woodland (Mallee site), one a cleared area that had been ungrazed for about five years (Pasture site) and the third an area of mallee rolled some 40 years ago and permitted to regenerate (Regrowth site). Litter had no effect on emergence of planted E. incrassata seeds, but emergence differed between sites. Overall, the percentage of seeds that germinated and emerged was substantial (mean 35.2% ± 25.9%). Seedling shoot biomass did not differ between sites or litter treatments. Although seedlings grown in Pasture litter suffered higher mortality rates, overall mortality rates were low (mean 13.2% ± 15.5%), suggesting that leaf litter has little effect on recruitment rates during winter and spring. We conclude that leaf litter does not affect emergence or growth in young E. incrassata seedlings during winter and spring, when most establishment occurs. Our results emphasize the difficulty in predicting litter effects on recruitment.

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Hastwell, G.T., Facelli, J.M. Effects of leaf litter on woody seedlings in xeric successional communities. Plant Ecology 148, 225–231 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009834425538

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  • Eucalyptus incrassata
  • Herbivory
  • Leaf litter
  • Old fields
  • Seedling emergence
  • Seedling establishment