Habitat and fire heterogeneity explain the co-occurrence of congeneric resprouter and reseeder Hypericum spp. along a Florida pine savanna ecocline
The distribution of resprouting and reseeding woody plants may be limited by the frequency of disturbances. Such species have a high probability of persisting in frequently and rarely disturbed habitats and may co-occur at intermediate disturbance frequencies. Nonetheless, resprouters and reseeders of the genus Hypericum co-occur in frequently burned pine savannas of southeastern North America. We predicted that these congeners would sort along a fire frequency gradient resulting from fine scale variation in topography and soil moisture. We examined habitat associations of a resprouter (H. microsepalum), facultative reseeder/resprouter (H. brachyphyllum), and reseeder (H. chapmanii) that occur along Northern Florida pine savanna ecoclines. We sampled five belt transects of 50 continuous 1 × 1 m2 plots for edaphic characteristics, fire spread, and densities of each species. Hypericum microsepalum was associated with upland, drier pine savannas where fires are frequent and typically burn uniformly across landscapes (2-3 year fire frequency). In contrast, H. brachyphyllum and H. chapmanii were associated with intermediate mesic areas where fires burn increasingly patchily downslope along ecoclines from upland flatwoods to lowland wet depressions (10-30 year fire frequency). Hypericum species of all life histories co-occur in intermediate areas where small changes in topography and edaphic characteristics generate a fire frequency gradient on a local scale. In pine savannas, fires vary from frequent to infrequent on a local within-landscape level as a function of elevation gradients. We conclude that the occurrence of such fire gradients along ecoclines should facilitate co-occurrence of plants with different life histories and thereby increase overall biodiversity. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.