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Oecologia. 2006 Oct;149(4):730-9. Epub 2006 Jul 18.

Fire season and intensity affect shrub recruitment in temperate sclerophyllous woodlands.

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Department for Environment and Heritage, 6/17 Lennon Street, Clare, SA, 5453, Australia.


The season in which a fire occurs may regulate plant seedling recruitment because of: (1) the interaction of season and intensity of fire and the temperature requirements for seed release, germination and growth; (2) post-fire rainfall and temperature patterns affecting germination; (3) the interaction of post-fire germination conditions and competition from surrounding vegetation; and (4) the interaction of post-fire germination conditions and seed predators and/or seedling herbivores. This study examined the effects of different fire intensities and fire seasons on the emergence and survival of shrubs representing a range of fire response syndromes from a summer rainfall cool climate region. Replicated experimental burns were conducted in two seasons (spring and autumn) in 2 consecutive years and fuel loads were increased to examine the effects of fire intensity (low intensity and moderate intensity). Post-fire watering treatments partitioned the effects of seasonal temperature from soil moisture. Higher intensity fires resulted in enhanced seedling emergence for hard-seeded species but rarely influenced survival. Spring fires enhanced seedling emergence across all functional groups. Reduced autumn recruitment was related to seasonal temperature inhibiting germination rather than a lack of soil moisture or competition. In Mediterranean-type climate regions, seedling emergence has been related to post-fire rainfall and exposure of seeds to seed predators. We think a similar model may operate in temperate summer rainfall regions where cold-induced dormancy over winter exposes seeds to predators for a longer time and subsequently results in recruitment failure. Our results support the theory that the effect of fire season is more predictable where there are strong seasonal patterns in climate. In this study seasonal temperature rather than rainfall appears to be more influential.

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