Mediterranean Heathland as a Key Habitat for Fire Adaptations: Evidence from an Experimental Approach
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Author/sGómez-González, Susana; Paniw Simpson, Maria; Durán, Mario; Picó, Sergio; Martín-Rodríguez, Irene; Ojeda, Fernando
SourceForests 2020, 11(7), 748
Some fire ecology studies that have focused on garrigue-like vegetation suggest a weak selective pressure of fire in the Mediterranean Basin compared to other Mediterranean-type regions. However, fire-prone Mediterranean heathland from the western end of the Mediterranean Basin has been frequently ignored in the fire ecology literature despite its high proportion of pyrogenic species. Here, we explore the evolutionary ecology of seed traits in the generalist rockrose Cistus salviifolius L. (Cistaceae) aiming to ascertain the role of the Mediterranean heathland for fire adaptations in the Mediterranean Region. We performed a germination experiment to compare the relationship of seed size to (i) heat-stimulated germination, (ii) dormancy strength, and (iii) heat survival in plants from 'high-fire' heathland vs. 'low-fire' coastal shrubland. Germination after heat-shock treatment was higher in large seeds of both 'high-fire' and 'low-fire' habitats. However, dormancy was weaker in small seeds from 'low-fire' habitats. Finally, seed survival to heat shock was positively related to seed size. Our results support that seed size is an adaptive trait to fire in C. salviifolius, since larger seeds had stronger dormancy, higher heat-stimulated germination and were more resistant to heat shock. This seed size-fire relationship was tighter in 'high-fire' Mediterranean heathland than 'low-fire' coastal shrubland, indicating the existence of di fferential fire pressures and evolutionary trends at the landscape scale. These findings highlight the Mediterranean heathland as a relevant habitat for fire-driven evolution, thus contributing to better understand the role of fire in plant evolution within the Mediterranean region.