Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Fire-stimulated rainforest seedling recruitment and vegetative regeneration in a densely grassed wet sclerophyll forest of north-eastern Australia

Australian Journal of Botany 48(5) 651 - 658
Published: 2000


Details of plant regeneration, combined with soil seedbank data, are documented for a densely grassed wet sclerophyll forest in north-eastern Australia. The following two hypotheses were tested: (1) that established individuals of rainforest pioneer species are killed by low to moderate intensity fires and (2) that seedling recruitment of these species is evenly distributed throughout the intervals between fires.

Both the sclerophyll and rainforest pioneer species displayed strong regenerative abilities as a response to low or moderate intensity fires. Most of the rainforest pioneer species were not killed by two recent fires but vegetatively regenerated. Alstonia muelleriana showed fire-enhanced vegetative expansion via root suckering. Both the sclerophyll and rainforest pioneer species were found to recruit seedlings primarily as a pulse in the first year or two after a fire, with limited recruitment after longer intervals between fires. This is consistent with suggestions that grass competition may limit tree recruitment. The germinable soil seedbank was dominated by rainforest pioneers, herbs and grasses, with heat treatment of the seedbank enhancing seed germination of two rainforest pioneer species. These results demonstrate the ability of rainforest pioneers to exploit the post-fire environment and indicate the complex nature of rainforest boundary dynamics. Further research into tropical rainforest expansion is required to examine the effects of fire regimes on vegetative and seedling regeneration across a range of sites.

© CSIRO 2000

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