Heteroblasty adjusts plants to changing environments post fire

Heteroblastic species show an abrupt change in morphology at a fixed ontogenetic stage, and are relatively frequent in Mediterranean type ecosystems with regular fires. Using the Restionaceae from the southern African Cape flora, Ehmig et al. investigate the potential functional significance of heteroblasty, in particular in post-fire environments.

African Restionaceae after a fire

Fires result in enhanced nutrient and moisture availability during the first post-fire year; however, these advantages are soon lost with increasing vegetation density. Heteroblastic changes adjust the plants’ economic strategy to best utilize the nutrient spike, and deal with the subsequent impoverishment. Heteroblasty might be a previously unrecognized adaptation to fire-driven environments.

Further reading

Ehmig, M., Coiro, M., & Linder, H. P. (2018). Ecophysiological strategy switch through development in heteroblastic species of mediterranean ecosystems – an example in the African Restionaceae. Annals of Botany, 123(4), 611–623. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy194