Many plants regenerate after fire from a canopy-stored seed bank, in which seed are housed in fire resistant confructescences (cones) that remain on maternal plants. This strategy would be favoured if plants accumulate a sufficiently large and genetically diverse seed bank during interfire intervals. We use a 16-year demographic study and surveys of microsatellite variation to quantify and explain the rate of accumulation of genetic diversity within the canopy seed bank of the shrub Banksia spinulosa. Flowering and fruit set were highly variable. An initial sample in 1991 of 354 reproductively mature plants generated 426 cones over 16 years, of which only 55 cones from 40 maternal plants persisted until 2005. By genotyping seed from these 55 cones we demonstrated that genetic diversity accumulated rapidly within the seed bank. Resampling revealed that diversity was determined by the number, not the age, of cones. Cones were widely distributed among plants, outcrossing rates were high (mean tm = 1.00 ± 0.04) and biparental inbreeding low. Adults displayed little evidence of isolation by distance and the genotypic diversity of seed cohorts was independent of the density of neighbouring potential sires. We therefore estimate that within at least 13 individual years the number of cones produced per year (14–63) would have contained 100% of the adult genetic diversity. We conclude that a highly outcrossed mating system and relatively widespread pollen dispersal ensure the rapid development of a genetically diverse and spatially and temporally homogeneous seed bank.
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