Seed germination and dormancy in south-western Australian fire ephemerals and burial as a factor influencing seed responsiveness to smoke

Katherine Baker

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    [Truncated abstract] Fire ephemerals are pioneer species that germinate in large numbers after fire and generally live for between six months and four years. Seeds produced during the short life span of these plants persist in the soil seedbank until a subsequent fire. This study examined the dormancy characteristics and germination requirements of ten Australian fire ephemeral species from five families. Seeds of four species germinated at one or more incubation temperatures in the laboratory, indicating that a proportion of their seedlots were non-dormant at the time of testing. Austrostipa compressa and Austrostipa macalpinei (Poaceae) produced >80% germination at 10?C and Alyogyne hakeifolia and Alyogyne huegelii (Malvaceae) produced 30-40% and 35-50% germination respectively at 10 to 25°C. In each of the Alyogyne species approximately 50% of seeds were impermeable to water, but scarification did not enable germination of all viable seeds suggesting that seeds which did not germinate, may have possessed physiological dormancy as well as physical dormancy. Remaining species had water permeable seeds. ... Germination of both Alyogyne species declined after six months of winter burial but was enhanced by heat treatments after a further six months of summer burial. Actinotus leucocephalus and Tersonia cyathiflora seeds exhibited annual dormancy cycling over two years of burial. Dormancy was alleviated over summer, allowing seeds of both species to germinate in smoke water when seeds were exhumed in autumn, and reimposed over winter, suppressing germination in spring. In Actinotus leucocephalus these dormancy changes were induced in the laboratory by warm (≥15°C) and cold (5°C) temperatures, alleviating and re-imposing dormancy, respectively. Wetting and drying seeds stored at 37°C further accelerated the rate of dormancy release. This dormancy cycling would increase the likelihood of seeds germinating when moisture availability in south-western Australia is greatest for seedling survival. It also explains the variation in germination response to smoke water observed in many species. Thus under natural conditions dormancy levels of fire ephemerals were altered during soil storage which enabled them to respond to fire-related cues such as heat and smoke water, and germinate in autumn. This information will assist in the use of these species in land rehabilitation and ornamental horticulture, and in the conservation of rare or endangered fire ephemerals.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2006


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