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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 15(2)

Persistence of obligate-seeding species at the population scale: effects of fire intensity, fire patchiness and long fire-free intervals

Mark K. J. Ooi A B C, Robert J. Whelan A, Tony D. Auld B

A Institute for Conservation Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.
B Biodiversity Conservation Science Section, Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), PO Box 1967, Hurstville, NSW 2220, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: mark.ooi@environment.nsw.gov.au
 
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Abstract

Understanding how a species persists under a particular fire regime requires knowledge of the response to fire of individual plants. However, categorising the fire response of a species solely based on known responses of individual plants can be misleading when predicting a population response. In the present study, we sought to determine the fire responses of several Leucopogon species at the population level, including the threatened L. exolasius. We found that, whilst all species studied were obligate seeders, the population responses of species to fire were dependent upon fire intensity and patchiness. Results showed first that low intensity fires were significantly patchier than higher intensity fires. Second, the proportion of plants killed within a population decreased with increased fire patchiness. We also assessed how populations were structured and found that stands were multi-aged at most sites, and did not have a single-aged structure, which is often assumed for obligate seeders. Both spatial complexity within the fire regime leading to adult plant persistence, and inter-fire recruitment, contributed to the multi-aged structure. It is possible that these Leucopogon species are gap recruiters, and may tolerate fire rather than be specifically adapted to it. Inter-fire recruitment may enable L. exolasius populations to persist for a much longer fire-free period than many other species in the region.

Keywords: Epacridaceae; Ericaceae; Leucopogon; rarity; soil seed bank; south-eastern Australia; threatened species.


   
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