University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Rapid post-fire re-assembly of species-rich bryophyte communities in Afroalpine heathlands

Hylander, K., Frisk, Carl A. ORCID:, Nemomissa, S. and Johansson, M.U. (2021) Rapid post-fire re-assembly of species-rich bryophyte communities in Afroalpine heathlands. Journal of Vegetation Science, 32 (3). e13033. ISSN Print: 1100-9233 Online: 1654-1103

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In some fire-prone ecosystems, bryophytes play a crucial role by providing the surface fuel that controls the fire return interval. Afroalpine heathlands are such an ecosystem, yet almost nothing is known about the bryophytes in this system. We do not know the level of species richness, or if there is a successive accumulation of species over time, or if some species are adapted to specific phases along the successional gradient, for example early-successional species sensitive to competition.

Afroalpine heathlands in Ethiopia.

We made an inventory of all bryophytes in 48 plots of 5 m × 5 m, distributed along a chronosequence from 1 to 25 years post fire. The heathlands are located between 3500 m and 3800 m a.s.l. and are managed by traditional pasture burning with fire intervals of 8–20 years.

We found in total 111 taxa of bryophytes. Post-fire mortality was almost 100%. The youngest plots had only a few cosmopolitan species often found after fire. Initially, species richness increased monotonically while starting to level off around 15 years after fire, when many plots had around 30 species and a high cover of Breutelia diffracta, which is a key ground-living species, important as surface fuel. Most species were found with sporophytes, a pattern even stronger for the most frequent species.

Interestingly, bryophyte diversity is already remarkably high by only 15 years after total eradication. The relatively slow accumulation of species in the first years after fire suggests that dispersal in space, and not time, is the major mechanism by which sites regain their diversity (i.e. spore banks play a smaller role than colonization of wind-borne spores). This indicates that the high species richness is built up through colonization from surrounding heathlands, and perhaps also from higher-altitude alpine grasslands and lower-altitude forests, and that the bryophyte diversity in this system is maintained by the traditional fire and grazing management.

Item Type: Article
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This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in
any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Vegetation Science published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of International Association for Vegetation Science.

A pdf file of this article is available to download from this WRaP record.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: chronosequence, colonization, disturbance, Ethiopia, liverwort, moss, species assembly, succession
Divisions: College of Health, Life and Environmental Sciences > School of Science and the Environment
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Copyright Info: Open Access article
Depositing User: Carl Frisk
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2021 11:28
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2021 10:28

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