Aim Fire is a key disturbance in Mediterranean-type climates. It has effects on plant community structure and composition and on the evolution of different groups of the flora. This study aimed to quantify changes in demography and vegetative regeneration caused by fire in key species in Mediterranean vegetation and to examine the hypothesis of convergence in characteristics of species in relation to fire by comparing the occurrence of bioecological groups of plants in the Mediterranean basin with groups of plants in other areas of Mediterranean-type climate.
Methods Changes in the demography and species composition after fire were studied in a plant community developed from a pinewood (Pinus halapensis Miller plantation) in north-western Sardinia. The demography of the three main species dominating the community after fire, Cistus monspeliensis L., Pistacia lentiscus L. and Chamaerops humilis L., was quantified by quadrat measurements in areas of the plantation which had never been burnt and in different parts 1 and 8 years after fire. Vegetative regeneration of resprouting species was also quantified. From the results of the survey and examination of published material, comparison was made between bioecological groups of species in different regions with Mediterranean-type climate to assess the similarities and differences in the biogeographic distribution of what can be broadly considered fire-related functional groups of plants.
Results Seeder and sprouter species showed contrasting population responses to fire in an area planted to pines over 50 years ago but subsequently in part subjected to fire. Mean species richness at a 25 m2 scale decreased by c. 28% over 8 years after fire. C. monspeliensis in the unburnt pinewood was sparse and sporadic but recruitment after fire was prolific and produced plant densities similar to those of similar seeder species in other Mediterranean Basin areas and in Californian chaparral. However density was very variable between burnt areas of different ages. In particular, seedling recruitment was much lower under the canopies of P. lentiscus than away from the canopy. Sprouter species (P. lentiscus and C. humilis) had recruited into the pinewood over time since planting of the pines but did not recruit after fire. Above-ground parts of plants were killed by fire and resprout stem density per plant increased initially but later decreased slightly due to self thinning of stems on each plant.
Main conclusions Plant demographic and floristic changes after fire in the Sardinian pinewood were similar to those reported for other Mediterranean plant communities. Resprouting species only recovered by vegetative means and, in contrast to seeder species, underwent thinning of stems within, rather than between, plants, so plant density did not change after fire in resprouting species. The Tertiary relic, strongly resprouting, animal-dispersed group of species in the Mediterranean Basin has a homologous group in the North American mediterraneoid flora but not in the Southern Hemisphere. In contrast, the general group of resprouting species which recruit after and/or between fires in the Southern Hemisphere mediterraneoid areas corresponds to only a small group of taxa in the Mediterranean basin. The bioecological group of seeder species, which are killed by and establish prolifically after fire, are represented in both Northern and Southern Hemisphere Mediterranean-type heathlands but are much more species rich in the south.