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A comparative study of interspecific variation in fruit size among Australian eucalypts

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We examined variation in woody fruit size among 362 Australian Eucalyptus species with respect to predictions relating fruit size to fire exposure and rainfall. Predictions for fruit size variation were established that focussed on selection for small or large seeds, given a positive allometric relationship between fruit and seed size within the genus, and on the potential for fruits to protect their valuable seed contents. Comparatively smaller fruits were found in species that continually experience frequent disturbance by fire, while both small and large fruits were found among species subjected to both short and long fire intervals. In the latter case where a broad range of fire intervals is possible, some species have adopted a strategy of producing small seeds that provide superior colonisation ability in disturbed conditions, while other species have adopted a strategy of producing large seeds which are more competitive during longer intervals between disturbance by fire. Only when taxonomic membership at the subgeneric level was accounted for in analyses across all species, did a significant relationship emerge between fruit size and rainfall independently of fire interval and plant height: comparatively larger fruits were found in species experiencing lower average annual rainfall in the subgenera Eucalyptus and Symphyomyrtus. In contrast to previous studies, larger fruits were found only in short species, while small fruits were found in both short and tall species. Many short species have adopted a strategy of protecting their seeds from high fire intensity by producing larger fruit. Since tall species can elevate their fruit far above high fire intensity, they make considerable energy savings by producing smaller fruit. It remains an open question as to why small fruit size occurs in some short species, but we suggest that these species may invest more heavily in vegetative regrowth after fire than in re-establishment by seed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2001

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