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Protocols in ecological and environmental plant physiology


Article << Previous     |         Contents Vol 61(6)

Serotiny in southern hemisphere conifers

P. G. Ladd A C, J. J. Midgley B and A. P. Nield A

A School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia.
B Biological Sciences Department, University of Cape Town, Post Bag Rondebosch, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa.
C Corresponding author. Email: p.ladd@murdoch.edu.au

Australian Journal of Botany 61(6) 486-496 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT13150
Submitted: 29 April 2013  Accepted: 3 September 2013   Published: 1 November 2013

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Serotiny is a widespread trait in angiosperms in the southern hemisphere; however, it is less common in conifers and has been little examined in the only two genera of southern conifers (Callitris and Widdringtonia) that have serotinous cones. There is variation across the family in the size of cones, the amount of seed contained and the time over which the cones stay closed on the plant. Cones from most of the species were collected in the field and various morphometric measurements made including cone wet and dry weight, the number of seeds contained and their likely viability. Cones from a selection of species with different cone sizes were heated to increasing temperatures, to investigate the ability of cones to protect the contained seeds from heat. In comparison to the flowering plants, serotiny has developed comparatively recently in southern conifers (in the last 10–20 million years). In Widdringtonia, serotiny is relatively weak, whereas in Callitris, it varies from strong to non-existent. Cone size and fertile-seed production across the two genera varies and the number of fertile seeds produced is positively related to the size of the cone. In some species, there are sterile seed-like bodies. These may have developed to confuse seed predators, so fertile seeds have a better chance of survival. Larger (heavier) cones are more effective in protecting the contained seeds from the heat of fires than are smaller ones. There is no simple relationship between the cone size and type of environment occupied by the species. In regions where fire is unlikely, predictable but mild or completely unpredictable, the species tend to be non-serotinous. In temperate regions where hot fires are likely to have been a selective agent, the species tend to be more strongly serotinous, although fire is not essential to open the cones. The community and environment in which a species has evolved is likely to have influenced the development of the degree of serotiny for each species and this may still be a variable property among populations of some species, depending on the fire regime of the area in which they grow.


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