Timing of fire relative to seed development may enable non-serotinous species to recolonize from the aerial seed banks of fire-killed trees
The existence of non-serotinous, non-sprouting species in fire regimes where serotiny confers an adaptive advantage is puzzling, particularly when these species recruit poorly from soil seed banks or from burn edges. In this paper, white spruce ( Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) was used to show how the timing of fire relative to seed development may permit non-serotinous species to recolonize burned areas from the aerial seed banks of fire-killed trees. To estimate survival of seeds within closed cones during crown fires, cone heating was simulated using a one-dimensional conduction model implemented in a three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics fire behavior model. To quantify the area burned when germinable seed would be contained within closed cones during a mast year, empirical fire occurrence and seed development (germinability and cone opening) data were compared for multiple locations across the white spruce range. Approximately 12% of cones contained viable seed following crown fire simulations (0.072 m s −1 mean spread rate; 9147 kW m −1 mean intensity), and roughly half of the historical area burned resulted from fires that occurred when closed cones would contain germinable seed. Together, these results suggest that non-serotinous species may recolonize burned areas from in situ aerial seed banks, and that this may be an important cause of their existence in fire regimes to which they otherwise seem poorly suited.