The Role of Fire Ecology in Plant Succession

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Succession is defined as a directional change in community composition and structure over time (Gurevitch et al, 2002). Succession is either primary or secondary. In primary succession plants grow and colonize earth for the first time. In secondary succession plants inhabit and colonize earth that was once inhabited by plants life. A wildfire is one example of secondary succession. When a disturbance in the environment occurs, such as a wildfire, either part or all of the community is destroyed. The aftermath of the wildfire leaves a barren landscape open to new growth, vegetation, and re-colonization of plant species (Gurevitch et al, 2002). Various studies have been undertaken and completed regarding the restoration and recovery of plant communities following wildfires. These studies include aspects of species richness during colonization to niche development.

The Mediterranean plant Banksia and Hakea have the ability to build post-fire communities rather successfully due to seed storage. Almost all of the species studied stored their seeds in dense woody fruit. In order for seed dispersal to occur leading to germination and sprouting, the fruit must be dense woody structure of the fruit must be dried. The drying of the fruit causes cracking allowing for the seeds to disperse and germinate. The addition of occasional fires to these communities allow for the drying of the fruit quicker than in its natural state (Lamont et al, 1999). Since the seeds of the fruit can be stored for up to three years, fire is a necessary step in succession to continue the species evenness and richness.

Another study completed in the grasslands of California concentrated on Nassella pulchara also known as purple needle grass. The needle grass, a native species of California, was studied to investigate seed attributes of post fire communities. A ten-year seed from a post fire needle grass plant and another aged seed respectively from a non-fire treated plant were...
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