Fire frequency effects on soil and pollinators: what shapes sexual plant reproduction?
Carbone, Lucas Manuel
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Increased fire frequency can significantly erode both soil properties and plant–pollinator interactions affecting plant reproductive success but they have seldom been assessed simultaneously. Here, we evaluate soil properties, pollinator assemblage and the reproductive success of two native Fabaceae herbs, Desmodium uncinatum and Rhynchosia edulis, growing in unburned, low and high fire frequency sites of Chaco Serrano across two consecutive years. Desmodium uncinatum is outcrossing with a high dependence on pollinators, whereas R. edulis is autogamous and completely independent of pollinators. We found that soil water content, nitrates and electrical conductivity significantly decreased in low and high fire frequency sites. Pollinator richness and composition visiting each plant species was similar across all fire frequency scenarios. However, fruit set of the exogamous D. uncinatum was strongly reduced in frequently burned sites, whereas fruit set of the autogamous R. edulis showed no significant changes. In both species, the probability of setting fruits was positively related to soil quality across fire frequency scenarios, implying that decreased reproduction was mainly driven by limitation of abiotic resources shaped by increased fire frequency. Because the pollinator-dependent D. uncinatum has a higher reproductive cost, reduced soil quality induced by fire frequency had stronger effects on its reproduction. Chronic reduction of sexual reproduction in frequently burned sites with depleted soils will limit population recruitment with negative consequences on long-term plant population persistence.
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