The Evolutionary Ecology of Sprouting in Woody Plants

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International Journal of Plant Sciences (Chicago, IL)

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Woody plants may be killed by severe disturbance or resprout from vegetative tissue. Sprouters can persist at a site through several generations of nonsprouters. Differences in sprouting behavior are therefore important for understanding vegetation dynamics, extinction risks, and woody plant management. Although sprouting appears not to be uniquely correlated with many other intrinsic attributes, such as specific leaf area or breeding systems, a clear correlate is reduced seedling aboveground growth rates from sprouters allocating more to belowground structures. Consequently, sprouters tend to have low seedling recruitment rates, and saplings take longer to reach maturity. Sprouters also tend to have lower seed output than nonsprouters, but comparative studies have seldom taken other trait differences such as plant size into account. Added to these trade-offs between persistence and recruitment, sprouters are often multi stemmed and shorter than related nonsprouters and may be outcompeted by them when disturbances are rare. Since sprouters tend to have long generation times, damped demographic trends, and gene flow across generations, it has been suggested that their speciation rates would be low. The available data, primarily from fire-prone Gondwanan shrublands in South Africa, show no strong differences in speciation rates of related sprouters versus seeders. This indicates that ecological factors are important determinants of the evolution of fire life