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Keywords:

  • fire;
  • heat;
  • heathy-woodland;
  • seed germination;
  • smoke;
  • soil seed-bank;
  • species richness

Abstract

The effects of dry heat, wet heat, charred wood and smoke on the germination of dormant soil-stored seeds from a Eucalyptus woodland in western Victoria were tested by using a glasshouse seed-bank germination experiment. Seedling density, species richness and species composition were compared between replicated treated and control samples. A total of 5922 seedlings, comprising 59 plant species, was recorded from the soil samples over a period of 150 days. While a few species dominated (including Centrolepis strigosa, Wahlenbergia gracilenta and Ixodia achillaeoides), 26 species were represented by fewer than five seedlings and 18 species were restricted to single treatment types. With the exception of charred wood, all treatments led to a significant increase in seed germination relative to the control. The highest number of germinants was obtained for the smoke treatment, with a mean (± SE) of 12 547 ± 449 seedlings m–2. Heat treatments yielded intermediate densities, with means (± SE) varying between 7445 ± 234 and 9133 ± 445 seedlings m–2. In comparison with the estimates of seed-bank sizes from other fire-prone ecosystems, these densities are high. Species richness differed significantly among treatments. Highest mean richness was recorded in the smoke treatment and lowest for the control and charred wood treatments. There were significant differences in seed-bank species composition between treatment types based on analysis of similarity (Anosim) using Bray–Curtis similarity. While heat was a specific requirement for triggering germination in hard-seeded species (e.g. Fabaceae), smoke was the most effective trigger for species from a broad range of other families. The potentially confounding effect of physical and chemical mechanisms of germination stimulation in heated bulk soil samples is raised as an issue requiring further investigation in relation to the role of smoke as a germination trigger.