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Evolution of 'smoke' induced seed germination in pyroendemic plants

September 7, 2016

Pyroendemics are plants in which seedling germination and successful seedling recruitment are restricted to immediate postfire environments. In many fire-prone ecosystems species cue their germination to immediate postfire conditions. Here we address how species have evolved one very specific mechanism, which is using the signal of combustion products from biomass. This is often termed ‘smoke’ stimulated germination although it was first discovered in studies of charred wood effects on germination of species strictly tied to postfire conditions (pyroendemics). Smoke stimulated germination has been reported from a huge diversity of plant species. The fact that the organic compound karrikin (a product of the degradation of cellulose) is a powerful germination cue in many species has led to the assumption that this compound is the only chemical responsible for smoke-stimulated germination. Here we show that smoke-stimulated germination is a complex trait with different compounds involved. We propose that convergent evolution is a more parsimonious model for smoke stimulated germination, suggesting that this trait evolved multiple times in response to a variety of organic and inorganic chemical triggers in smoke. The convergent model is congruent with the evolution of many other fire-related traits.