Seed set in Sorghum stipoideum, and not fire, determines the timing of breeding by Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae)

Anna Weier, Ian J. Radford, Sean M. Bellairs, Michael J. Lawes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Seeds of native grasses are an important food source for granivorous finches throughout the tropical savannas of northern Australia. The iconic Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), a threatened species endemic to these savanna grasslands, relies almost exclusively on the grass seeds of annual Sorghum spp. when breeding, and appears to time breeding with the availability of these seeds. Fire is common throughout the savanna grasslands of northern Australia and has the potential to alter Sorghum spp. seed germination and plant reproductive phenology which in turn could alter the Gouldian finch breeding phenology window. This study examines if the temporal relationship between breeding by Gouldian finches in the north-east Kimberley region of Australia relates to fire and Sorghum stipoideum seed phenology. The availability of S. stipoideum seed was monitored at Gouldian finch breeding sites in association with local fire history and Gouldian finch breeding data. The effect of experimental fire (heat and smoke) on S. stipoideum seed dormancy and germination was also investigated. We found that the first heavy rainfalls preceded germination of S. stipoideum in November/December. Synchronous seed set by S. stipoideum plants the following March/April coincided with the start and duration of the Gouldian finch breeding season. The timing of dry season fires had no relationship with seed dormancy or the phenology of seed germination and seed set. Nor did the effects of smoke or heat affect seed dormancy and germination. These findings support the importance of the seed phenology of annual grass species, such as S. stipoideum, to breeding Gouldian finches, and also suggest that the occurrence of fire at a breeding site in the previous year does not alter the S. stipoideum seed or finch breeding window. The implications of these results for threatened Gouldian finch ecology and management are discussed in relation to previously published fire impacts on S. stipoideum seed nutrition and finch breeding site selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-162
Number of pages12
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date14 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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