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Postfire germination in Chile

In the matorral (chaparral-type vegetation) of Central Chile, natural fires are assumed to have been much less frequent (during the Quaternary) than in the other Mediterranean-type ecosystems (MTEs) of the world [1]. Thus, plant adaptive responses to fire are expected to be uncommon. Resprouting is a relatively widespread trait in Chilean woody species, although this traits is not really an indicator of the fire history as resprouters occur in many environments, not only in fire-prone ones [1,2]. Fire-stimulated germination (i.e., the increased seed germination after a heat shock or after the smoke produced by a fire) is a trait more specifically tied to fire [1,3]. A recent study [4] demonstrates that fire-stimulated germination is not as common in the Chilean woody flora as in other MTEs; i.e., negative seed responses to fire cues were more frequent than positive responses. Some seeds were damaged by fire, but many species were able to resist the heat shock although without an increase on germination. In few species, germination was stimulated (by heat or smoke), but the magnitude of the stimulation was relatively low. The overall effect is that fire-stimulated germination is poorly represented in the Chilean matorral. These results support the idea that this matorral had a history of lower fire activity than other mediterranean-climate regions, despite having a fire-prone climate. This low fire activity has been attributed to the effect of the Andes blocking many summer thunderstorms in central Chile, and thus reducing lightning and natural ignitions [1]. Lightning fires do occur in Chile, but typically further south; most current fires in central (mediterranean) Chile are of anthropogenic origin.

Two views of the Chilean matorral; left: La Campana National Park (photos: S. Gómez-González).



[1] Keeley JE, Bond WJ, Bradstock RA, Pausas JG, Rundel PW. 2012. Fire in Mediterranean ecosystems: ecology, evolution and management. Cambridge University Press. [the book]

[2] Pausas, J.G., Pratt, R.B., Keeley, J.E., Jacobsen, A.L., Ramirez, A.R., Vilagrosa, A., Paula, S., Kaneakua-Pia, I.N. & Davis, S.D. 2016. Towards understanding resprouting at the global scale. New Phytol. 209: 945-954. [doi | wiley | pdf | Notes S1-S4 | Table S1]

[3] Moreira B. & Pausas J.G. 2012. Tanned or burned: The role of fire in shaping physical seed dormancy. PLoS ONE 7: e51523. [doi | plos | pdf]  

[4] Gómez-González S., Paula S., Cavieres L.A. & Pausas J.G. 2017. Postfire responses of the woody flora of Central Chile: insights from a germination experiment. PloS ONE 12: e0180661. [doi | plos | pdf]   New!

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