Photos from the Field: Does Fire Trigger Seed Germination in the Neotropical Savannas?
Santos Fichino et al., (2016). Does Fire Trigger Seed Germination in the Neotropical Savannas? Experimental Tests with Six Cerrado Species. Biotropica, 48: 181–187. doi: 10.1111/btp.12276
The Cerrado (Brazilian savanna) is a biodiversity hotspot with a history of fire that goes back as far as 10 million years. Fire has influenced the evolution of several aspects of the vegetation, including reproduction and life cycles. This study tested how fire by-products such as heat and smoke affect the germination of six species common to two Cerrado open physiognomies: wet grasslands and the campo sujo (grassland with scattered shrubs and dwarf trees). We subjected seeds collected in northern Brazil to heat shock and smoke treatments, both separately and combined, using different temperatures, exposure times, and smoke concentrations in aqueous solutions. High temperatures and smoke did not break seed dormancy nor stimulate germination of the Cerrado study species. However, seeds were not killed by high temperatures, indicating that they are fire-tolerant. Our findings differed from those of other fire-prone ecosystems (mostly of Mediterranean vegetation), where fire stimulates germination. Moreover, we provide important information regarding germination strategies of non-woody Cerrado plants, showing the importance of considering the tolerance of seeds to high temperatures when evaluating fire-related traits in fire-prone ecosystems.