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Fires can benefit plants by disrupting antagonistic interactions


Fire has a key role in the ecology and evolution of many ecosystems, yet its effects on plant–insect interactions are poorly understood. Because interacting species are likely to respond to fire differently, disruptions of the interactions are expected. We hypothesized that plants that regenerate after fire can benefit through the disruption of their antagonistic interactions. We expected stronger effects on interactions with specialist predators than with generalists. We studied two interactions between two Mediterranean plants (Ulex parviflorus, Asphodelus ramosus) and their specialist seed predators after large wildfires. In A. ramosus we also studied the generalist herbivores. We sampled the interactions in burned and adjacent unburned areas during 2 years by estimating seed predation, number of herbivores and fruit set. To assess the effect of the distance to unburned vegetation we sampled plots at two distance classes from the fire perimeter. Even 3 years after the fires, Ulex plants experienced lower seed damage by specialists in burned sites. The presence of herbivores on Asphodelus decreased in burned locations, and the variability in their presence was significantly related to fruit set. Generalist herbivores were unaffected. We show that plants can benefit from fire through the disruption of their antagonistic interactions with specialist seed predators for at least a few years. In environments with a long fire history, this effect might be one additional mechanism underlying the success of fire-adapted plants.

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We thank M.A. Alonso-Zarazaga, J. Baixeras, J.V. Falcó-Gari, L. Vivas, S. Montagud Alario and M.A. Orrico for insect identification. We are grateful to Abel Rubira, Santiago Donat-Caerols, Miguel Adán, Alejandro (Dani) Ginart, Beatriz López Gurillo, Lucía Tortajada and José Vicente Pérez for their help in the field and in the laboratory. CIDE is a joint institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the University of Valencia and the regional government of Valencia (Generalitat Valenciana). Generalitat Valenciana also provided detailed fire maps. This research was financed by projects TREVOL and FILAS (CGL2012-39938-C02-01, CGL2015-64086) from the Spanish Government and PROMETEO/2016/021 from Generalitat Valenciana. Y.G. was supported by an FPI scholarship (BES-2013-062728) from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

Author contribution statement

JGP conceived the idea, JGP and MCC designed the study. MCC and YG collected the data at field. YG performed the statistical analyses and wrote the first version of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Y. García.

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Communicated by Carlos L. Ballare.

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García, Y., Castellanos, M.C. & Pausas, J.G. Fires can benefit plants by disrupting antagonistic interactions. Oecologia 182, 1165–1173 (2016).

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  • Exapion fasciolatum
  • Generalized interaction
  • Horistus orientalis
  • Seed predation
  • Specialized interaction