Fire season effects on the recruitment of non-sprouting serotinous Proteaceae in the eastern (bimodal rainfall) fynbos biome, South Africa

03 November 2010

Research in Mediterranean-climate shrublands in both South Africa and Australia shows that recruitment of proteoid shrubs (non-sprouting, serotinous Proteaceae) is best after warm-season (summer and autumn) fires and worst after cool-season (winter and spring) ones. This pattern has been attributed to post-dispersal seed attrition as well as size of pre-dispersal seed reserves. Here we investigate patterns of post-fire recruitment for four proteoid species in the eastern part of South Africa’s fynbos biome, which has a bimodal (spring and autumn) rainfall regime. Despite the lack of significant differences in recruitment between cool- and warm-season burns, we find some evidence for favourable recruitment periods following fires in spring and autumn, immediately before, and coinciding with, the bimodal rainfall peaks. This suggests that enhanced recruitment is associated with conditions of high soil moisture immediately after the fire, and that rapid germination may minimize post-dispersal seed attrition. In two of the species, we also find a shift from peak flowering in winter and spring in the Mediterranean-climate part of the fynbos biome, to summer and autumn flowering in the eastern part. Because these two species are only weakly serotinous, warm-season flowering would result in maximal seed banks in spring, which could explain the spring recruitment peak, but not the autumn one.We conclude that eastern recruitment patterns differ significantly from those observed in the western and central parts of the biome, and that fire management protocols for the east, which are currently based on data and experience from the winter-rainfall fynbos biome, need to be adjusted accordingly. Fire managers in the eastern fynbos biome should be less constrained by requirements to burn within a narrow seasonal range, and should therefore be in a better position to apply the required management burns.