Ecological study of plant species at Sandford Rocks Nature Reserve (SRNR)
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The ecology of plant species at Sandford Rocks Nature Reserve (SRNR) was studied. The study site is an important nature reserve that contains relatively undisturbed natural vegetation. It has a mosaic of exposed granite rocks, scrublands and woodlands. The study involved: a description of the structure and composition of the vegetation; the population characteristics of selected Acacia species; aspects of reproduction in Acacia; germination and seedling characteristics of some Acacia and grass species that dominate the reserve; the effect of seed size on germination and seedling characteristics; and, the relationship of seed size to seed coat thickness in selected Acacia species. Five different areas were studied using the point centered quarter method to sample the woody perennial species. Thirteen Acacia species were examined for reproduction characteristics; and in 2 selected Acacia species, the effects of phyllode and/or inflorescence removal on reproduction was investigated. Germination tests were conducted to identify germination characteristics in 8 Acacia and 7 grass species dominant at SRNR. The possible effects of variation in seed size on germination; seedling characteristics; and, seed coat thickness were investigated in Acacia fauntleroyi and Acacia prainii. A total of 85 species from 20 families of woody perennials were collated. All areas were dominated by the Myrtaceae, Mimosaceae and Proteaceae families. There was considerable variability in the structure and composition of vegetation. Most species were present in particular sites and the composition of communities appears to be related to the heterogeneity of the habitat within the reserve. In areas of shallow or rocky soil, vegetation types present include Allocasuarina huegeliana woodland, Grevillea paradoxa low scrubland and Acacia neurophylla medium shrubland.In a seasonally wet area, vegetation types present include low open grassland; Eucalyptus capillosa (wandoo) woodland; and, Acacia saligna thicket. In deep, dry sandy soil, vegetation types include Phebalium tuberculosum shrubland, Acacia acuminata and Acacia coolgardiensis thickets. On relatively flat areas that gain water from adjacent large granite hills, the vegetation consists mainly of tall, open woodlands of Eucalyptus species. Vegetation types include: medium tall Eucalyptus salmonophloia woodland with Kunzea pulchella shrubland at the periphery of the Eucalyptus woodland. At rock areas, vegetation types present include dense Leptospermum erubescens thicket, low open Acacia prainii and Dodonaea viscosa shrubland. Of the Acacia populations studied, in A. lasiocalyx no recent seedling establishment was observed. It is hypothesised that recruitment occurs in particular periods. As the plants are associated with rock and soils are generally shallow, it appears that recruitment depends on run-off water from the rocks in winter. Continuous recruitment seems to be the pattern in A. prainii with both seedlings and saplings represented. A. fauntleroyi forms relatively small populations; apparently long drought periods (>l00 d) result in mass death and limit its population size. In A. hemiteles, no seedling stage was found, root competition (for water) from associated Eucalyptus species presumably limits its recruitment. Reproductive success of Acacia is affected by rainfall. A wet winter is required to induce flowering and further rain is required after flowering to promote pod development and good seed set.All Acacia species suffer from drought in the reproduction season, however they differ in their degree of susceptibility. Leaflessness and tree shape also affect Acacia fecundity. Plants bearing more phyllodes produce more flowers and pods, and branches in the upper part of the crown bear heavier inflorescences. In 1998, all Acacia species at SRNR produced mature seed of low weight, with many immature and diseased seed, which gave poor germination. A late spring frost in 1998 is believed to be responsible for limited seed development. In two selected Acacia species, removal of phyllodes reduced the number of pods produced. Presumably, phyllode removal reduces photosynthate produced, therefore the competition among inflorescences (or pods) for resources is more intense and subsequent abortions are likely to occur. All Acacia species studied showed best germination in the cool winter temperature range. Apparently, seeds are adapted to germinate in winter when seasonal moisture is more likely to be available. The best temperature however, varied slightly between species. The grass species dominant in the reserve, except for Aristida contorta, also had more germination in cooler rather than warmer temperatures. The flora of SRNR is similar to typical vegetation of the Southwest. Generally, Acacia species are present only in particular sites, presumably were habitat moisture allows. Seedlings of Acacia species growing in naturally dry areas have greater root: shoot masses than those growing in seasonally wet areas. Biomass partitioning is an apparent strategy to conserve water. Of the 7 grass species, Amphipogon strictus appears to have fastest growth.Eriachne ovata has greater root than shoot mass, while in all other species, shoot mass is greater than root mass; a characteristic of species that grow well in moist habitats. The longest shoots and roots are in Austrostipa elegantissima, an understorey species of eucalypt woodland. In A. fauntleroyi, the degree of hard-seededness varies between seed sizes. There is a higher proportion of soft seed in smaller seed. Seed of different sizes show some responses to different pre-treatments and incubation temperatures for germination. Larger seeds generally germinate in greater numbers after higher treatment temperatures. The best treatment for small seeds is pre-treatment at 75°C and incubated at 15°C. For medium and large seed, best pre-treatment is at 75°C with incubation at 30°C or soaking in boiling water and incubation at either 15 or 3°C. In A. prainii, seed size; pre-treatment; incubation; and, their interaction all affected germination; larger seeds are more viable. The best treatment to promote germination of A. prainii is soaking in boiling water and incubation at 25°C. In both A. fauntleroyi and A. prainii, larger seeds produce larger seedlings. Seedlings from large seeds have the potential for more rapid pre-photosynthetic growth. Larger, heavier seed has a thicker seed coat. The seed coat of A. prainii is thicker than in A. fauntleroyi; the difference in seed coat thickness is reflected by more soft seed in A. fauntleroyi (35%) than in A. prainii (6%).
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