Soil moisture and temperature drive emergence delays associated with fire seasonality in eucalypt forests

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Abstract

Many ecosystems are well adapted to fire, although the impacts of fire seasonality and its effect on post-fire recruitment are less well understood. Late summer or autumn fires within eucalypt forests with a Mediterranean-type climate allow for seedling emergence during the cooler and wetter seasons. The emergence and survival after spring fires may be impacted by higher soil temperatures and water stress, delaying recruitment until the subsequent winter period. During this delay, seeds may be exposed to predation and decay, which reduce the viable seed bank. This study examines post-fire recruitment dynamics in a eucalypt forest ecosystem (Northern Jarrah Forest (NJF) of southwestern Western Australia) and whether it may be vulnerable to human-induced changes to fire season. Here, we compare in situ post-fire seedling emergence patterns between autumn and spring burns and account for a potential ecological mechanism driving seasonal differences in emergence by determining the thermal germination requirements of seeds for 15 common species from the NJF. Our results demonstrate that 93% of species had thermal optima between 10 degrees C and 20 degrees C, analogous with soil temperatures measured during the germination window (late April to October). Concurrent in situ post-fire emergence was highest 144 days after an autumn (seasonal) fire, followed by a 10-72% decline. In contrast, there was no emergence within the first 200 days following a spring (aseasonal) fire. We conclude that aseasonal fire in the NJF can lead to a complete delay in recruitment in the first season post-fire, resulting in a lower inter-fire growth period and increasing the potential for further reductions in recruitment through seed predation and decay. The study suggests that aseasonal fire has an immediate and significant impact on initial recruitment in the NJF, but further research is required to determine any longer-term effects of this delay and its implications for fire management in southwestern Western Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbercoad093
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Physiology
Volume11
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2023

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