Fire‑mediated disruptive selection can explain the reseeder–resprouter dichotomy in Mediterranean‑type vegetation

Altwegg, Res ; De Klerk, Helen Margaret ; Midgley, Guy F. (2014)

CITATION: Altwegg, R., De Klerk, H.M. & Midgley, G.F. 2014. Fire‑mediated disruptive selection can explain the reseeder–resprouter dichotomy in Mediterranean‑type vegetation. Oecologia, 177(2):367-377, doi:10.1007/s00442-014-3112-6.

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Crown fire is a key selective pressure in Mediterranean-type plant communities. Adaptive responses to fire regimes involve trade-offs between investment for persistence (fire survival and resprouting) and reproduction (fire mortality, fast growth to reproductive maturity, and reseeding) as investments that enhance adult survival lower growth and reproductive rates. Southern hemisphere Mediterranean-type ecosystems are dominated by species with either endogenous regeneration from adult resprouting or fire-triggered seedling recruitment. Specifically, on nutrient-poor soils, these are either resprouting or reseeding life histories, with few intermediate forms, despite the fact that the transition between strategies is evolutionarily labile. How did this strong dichotomy evolve? We address this question by developing a stochastic demographic model to assess determinants of relative fitness of reseeders, resprouters and hypothetical intermediate forms. The model was parameterised using published demographic data from South African protea species and run over various relevant fire regime parameters facets. At intermediate fire return intervals, trade-offs between investment in growth versus fire resilience can cause fitness to peak at either of the extremes of the reseeder–resprouter continuum, especially when assuming realistic non-linear shapes for these trade-offs. Under these circumstances, the fitness landscape exhibits a saddle which could lead to disruptive selection. The fitness gradient between the peaks was shallow, which may explain why this life-history trait is phylogenetically labile. Resprouters had maximum fitness at shorter fire-return intervals than reseeders. The model suggests that a strong dichotomy in fire survival strategy depends on a non-linear trade-off between growth and fire persistence traits.

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