For everything a season: Smoke-induced seed germination and seedling recruitment in a Western Australian Banksia woodland

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Abstract

Abstract The influence of factors associated with fire on seed germination of Australian native species is generally well documented, but examples involving the use of smoke as a fire analogue for ecological research remain limited. The role of season of treatment in the efficacy of smoke as a promotive germination agent was investigated over two growing seasons using natural soil stored seedbanks in Banksia woodland near Perth, Western Australia. Smoke was applied to unburnt sites in the autumn, winter and spring of 1994. Germinant emergence and seedling survival of 37 species representing 18 families was monitored in both unburnt sites and in adjacent, recently burnt sites until the second spring after treatment (October 1995). Recruitment from seed was found to be profoundly affected by the season in which dormancy breaking treatment had been applied. The promotive effect extended beyond the initial year of application. For the majority of the species investigated, application of smoke to unburnt sites in autumn promoted a significantly greater germination response than treatment in winter or spring. In only three cases (introduced annuals, the Fabaceae and Hibbenia amplexicaulis) did autumn smoke treatment not yield better germination than in summer-burnt counterparts. However, in almost half of the cases examined, proportions of seedlings surviving past their first summer after emergence in burnt areas were consistently greater than those in smoked or untreated sites. Most notably, no seedlings emerging during the spring of the first year of study survived into the following summer. Implications of the results with respect to future seed bank research and management of native vegetation are discussed.

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