The influence of seed supply and seedbed on seedling recruitment in shelterwood-treated jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest
Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions
Successful and adequate recruitment of seedlings is an essential ecological process in forest ecosystem dynamics and is a key principle underpinning sustainable timber harvesting. This is particularly so with the shelterwood silvicultural system used in the jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest of south-west Australia where partial cuts of overstorey are made followed by prescribed burning to stimulate seed fall and seedling establishment. There have been concerns over the lack of seedling recruitment in some shelterwood-treated areas of the jarrah forest, and hence this study was implemented to explore the roles of seed supply and seedbed conditions in limiting recruitment of jarrah seedlings. Low seedling densities were recorded across all six burnt study sites and were strongly correlated (at both broad and fine scales) with both canopy seed store and seed fall. Ample levels of post-burn seed fall only resulted in low seedling numbers suggesting that adequate seed supply did not coincide with seedbed conditions suitable for mass seedling regeneration. Conditions favourable for seedling recruitment were highly variable within sites, since both seed supply and seedbed conditions were spatially heterogeneous. Fine-scale areas burnt to mineral soil showed an additive influence to the overwhelmingly dominant factor of seed supply on seedling recruitment. However, the capacity of low intensity burns to produce these seedbed conditions at a broad scale appears to be limited. Results suggest that successful stocking of shelterwood-treated jarrah forest is not always feasible following a single silvicultural event, such as post-harvest burning under mild conditions. The chances of ample seed supply coinciding with broad-scale seedbed conditions favourable for mass germination, emergence and establishment appear to be low. Successful stocking of shelterwood-treated jarrah forest is more likely to be a longer term outcome achieved through episodic recruitment, especially when favourable environmental conditions coincide with optimal seedbed conditions. Such episodic recruitment strategies may be common in resource-limited systems such as jarrah forest and other dry eucalypt forest systems, where conditions controlling the regeneration niche are often variable and unpredictable.