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Seed dormancy release and summer temperatures

February 18th, 2024 Leave a comment Go to comments

In Mediterranean ecosystems, fire breaks the dormancy in many species and stimulates germination in the postfire environment [1]. Both the smoke and the heat of the fire may be responsible for breaking dormancy [1]. Cistaceae species are typical examples of species with this heat-released dormancy [1, 2], together with many legumes. Despite fire is a much more powerful driver of dormancy release than the summer heat (figure 9 in [1] and figure 2 in [2]), there are still people aiming to demonstrate the role of summer temperatures in dormancy release in Cistaceae. A recent research team studied the germination of 12 Cistacea species and compared the effect of fire-type heat in seeds submitted to a summer heat treatment (50/20o C for a month) and in seeds without this summer treatment [3]. They concluded that high summer temperatures are needed for maximum germination in the presence of fire [3]. A reanalysis of their data suggests that not only are summer temperatures inefficient at releasing dormancy, but they also reduce postfire germination [4]. The applied summer heat treatment reduced the germination (%) in the control (H-) and in all fire treatments, and for all species (Fig. 1 below). And for the seeds that germinate, those under summer heat tended to germinate slower than those that did not suffer the summer heat (Fig. 2 below). In conclusion, fire increases the germination of Cistaceae seeds in contrast to summer-type heat, i.e., the great fitness benefits of fire are unmatched by the summer heat [4].

Fig. 1. Germination with no summer heat (x-axis; ~ 20o C for a month) and with summer heat (y-axis, 50/20o C altering for 12 h, and during a month) in 12 Cistaceae species with different fire treatments. All fire heat treatments were 100o C for 10 min applied as follows: H-, no fire heat (black); HB, fire heat before summer (green); HA, fire heat treatment after summer (red); HBA, fire heat before and after the summer (unrealistic scenario; blue). The results suggest that applying a strong summer heat treatment (52/20o C for a month) reduces the germination (%) in the control (H-) and in all fire treatments and for all species. From [4].

Fig. 2. Number of days to the first germination (T0, left) and to reach 50% of the final germination (T50, right) with no summer heat (x-axis, control) and with summer heat (y-axis, treatment), and with different fire treatments (colors; see figure above) for 12 Cistacea species (12 points for each color). The results suggest that summer heat, if any, tends to increase the time to germination.


[1] Pausas J.G. & Lamont B.B. 2022. Fire-released seed dormancy – a global synthesis. Biological Reviews 97: 1612-1639.  [doi | pdf | supp. mat. | data (figshare)]

[2] Moreira B. & Pausas J.G. 2012. Tanned or burned: The role of fire in shaping physical seed dormancy. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51523. [doi | plos | pdf]

[3] Luna B, Piñas-Bonilla P, Zavala G, Pérez B. 2023. Timing of fire during summer determines seed germination in Mediterranean Cistaceae. Fire Ecology 19: 52.

[4] Lamont BB, Burrows GR, Pausas JG 2024. Fire-type heat increases the germination of Cistaceae seeds in contrast to summer heat. Fire Ecology 20:14 [doi | pdf]

More on seed dormancy: A review | a glossary | bet-hedging & best-bet | smoke-released dormancy 

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