Biogeography of seeder and resprouter Erica species in the Cape Floristic Region—Where are the resprouters?


  • Fernando Ojeda

    1. Institute for Plant Conservation, Department of Botany, University of Cape Town. Rondebosch 7700, South Africa
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    • Departamento de Biologia Vegetal y Ecologia, Universidad de Sevilla, Apdo 1095, 41080-Sevilla, Spain


The genus Erica L., with more than 600 species, and a high number of endemics, represents the most remarkable example of floristic diversity in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR). It is largely confined to nutrient-poor, acidic, sandy soils, being one of the most characteristic element of fynbos. The ability to survive fires, resprouting from a lignotuber, is a common trait among Euro-mediterranean Erica species. In contrast, resprouting is fairly uncommon among ericas in the CFR (less than 10%). Most of them are killed by fire, regenerating only but readily by seed germination. An extensive survey on the resprouting ability of South African Erica species was carried out and the pattern of geographical distribution of resprouters and seeders in the CFR was determined. The geographical distribution of these two regeneration classes was related to a climatic gradient of seasonality along the CFR. A pattern of higher proportions of resprouter species towards the mediterranean, strongly seasonal northwestern CFR and the non-seasonal eastern CFR and summer rainfall area outside the CFR was identified. The number of resprouter species reaches a maximum in the eastern CFR and is lower in the southwestern CFR despite the overall higher concentration of species in this subregion. Summer drought strongly influences the effectiveness of post-fire regeneration and growth (i.e. new recruits plus survivors) of Erica species, and is the major selective force accounting for the pattern of distribution of seeders and resprouters in the CFR. A mild mediterranean climate with reliable autumn-winter rains and a short summer drought, typical of the mountain areas of the southwestern CFR, favours recruitment of seeders but hampers recruitment of resprouters. Resprouter species persist and become dominant under harsh conditions for recruitment (severe summer drought) and would coexist with seeders under situations of no summer stress. Diversification is associated with seeder lineages. Hence, number of seeder species will be higher than number of resprouters, especially in the southwestern CFR, where favourable conditions for recruitment allow a massive concentration of seeder species, many of them narrow endemics.