Fire and species range in Mediterranean landscapes: an experimental comparison of seed and seedling performance among Centaurea taxa

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Abstract:

Aim

Fire is a major disturbance event in Mediterranean landscapes. In this paper, we experimentally assess the effects of fire and post-fire conditions on seed germination and establishment of twenty Centaurea taxa to test whether differences among taxa are associated with range size.Methods

The taxa (species and subspecies) considered were classified as rare and widespread according to their `area of occupancy' in the Mediterranean coast of Spain and France. In a first experiment, we analyse the effects of heat-shock (particularly, room temperature, 70 and 110 °C) on percentage germination and speed of germination (T50). In a second experiment, we analyse the effects of post-fire conditions (shading and soil type: burned/unburned) on seed germination and establishment ability.Results

Temperatures over 120 °C resulted in 100% mortality, while temperatures in the range of those expected to be found in the first centimetres down the soil profile during a wildfire (70–110 °C) had no effect on seed germination. Differences in germination percentage and T50 among taxa were not related to rarity. In the post-fire conditions experiment, decreased radiation (shading) increased percentage germination and T50 in most taxa, while burned soil decreased germination in some of them. The effects of post-fire conditions on seedling growth (number of leaves and leaf size) were also different among taxa, but such differences were not related to rarity. However, rarity was associated with low establishment ability, as rare taxa tended to show smaller seedling size and higher mortality rates under the whole range of conditions tested.Main conclusions

The results obtained indicate that fire has a negative effect upon the survival of populations in all the taxa considered, and that rare-common differences in germination and seedling establishment are not directly related to disturbance by fire. As far as interspecific differences in range size are concerned, other factors, either alone or in combination with a low regeneration ability after fire, need to be explored further.
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