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Maintenance costs of serotiny in a variably serotinous pine: The role of water supply.
Serotiny is an important adaptation for plants in fire-prone environments. However, different mechanisms also induce the opening of serotinous cones in the absence of fire in variably serotinous species. Xeriscence -cone opening driven by dry and hot conditions- is considered to be mediated only by the external environment, but endogenous factors could also play a significant role. Using the variably serotinous Pinus halepensis as our model species, we determined the effects of cone age and scales density in cone opening, and using in-situ and ex-situ manipulative experiments we investigated the role of water availability in the opening of serotinous cones. We hypothesized that loss of connection between the cones and the branch through the peduncles or the absence of water supply could induce a faster cone opening. Results showed that older cones lost more water and opened at lower temperatures, with no influence of scales density. Both field and chamber manipulative experiments (using paired cones of the same whorl) confirmed that water intake through the peduncles affected significantly the pace of cone opening, such that lack of water supply speeded up cone dehiscence. However, this was true for weakly serotinous provenances-more common in this species-, while highly serotinous provenances were indifferent to this effect in the field test. All our results support that cone serotiny in P. halepensis involves the allocation of water to the cones, which is highly consistent with the previously observed environmental effects. Importantly, the existence of maintenance costs of serotinous cones has strong implications on the effects of climate change in the resilience of natural populations, via modifications of the canopy seed banks and recruitment after stand-replacing fires. Moreover, evolutionary models for serotiny in P. halepensis must take into account the significant contribution of maintenance costs to the complex interaction between genotype and the environment.
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