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Fire and alien plants

November 25th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In Mediterranean Basin ecosystems, fires are frequent, and post-fire regeneration is tipically based on native species, that is, there is no invasion of alien species after fire. However, this is not the case in the other Mediterranean climatic regions, where fire frequencies higher than their natural (historic) fire regime favors the invasion of alien plants. This is specially the case in the Mediterranean ecosystems of Chile, where recurrent fires play a little role on the evolutionary history. In Chile, fires appeared with the indigenous settlements, and increased exponentially since the time of the Spanish invasion (1536). This increase in fires, together with heavy grazing, has reduced the native matorral and increased the invasive species. In a recent paper, Gómez-Gonzalez et al. [1] show that fire open the window for the establishment of annual plants, and most of them are alien (from the Mediterranean Basin). The successful establishment of alien annuals was due to their ability to maintain rich seedbanks in burned areas and to the greater propagule arrival compared to native species (annuals or perennials). Thus the results demonstrate that fire is a relevant factor for the maintenance of alien-dominated grasslands in the Chilean matorral and highlight the importance of considering the interactive effect of seed rain and seedbank survival to understand plant invasions patterns in fire-prone ecosystems.

[1] Gómez-González S, Torres-Díaz C., Valencia G, Torres-Morales P, Cavieres L.A., and Pausas J.G (in press). Anthropogenic fires increase alien and native annual species in the Chilean coastal matorral. Diversity and Distributions 17: 58-67 [doi | pdf]

Figure: Chilean matorral recently burnt showing the invasion of Fumaria capreolata (flowering), and annual alien species original from Europe (Foto by S. Gómez-González).

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