Demographic vulnerability of an extreme xerophyte in arid Australia.
Callitris glaucophylla (syn. C. columellaris F.Muell.) is an iconic Australian conifer that is suffering a recruitment deficit over much of the arid zone. Here, seedling establishment requires a series of unusually wet years, and protection from high levels of herbivory. The aim of our study was to determine the size class structure of C. glaucophylla populations in the most arid part (150 mm mean annual precipitation) of its range, and particularly whether seedlings had established during a wet period in 2010/11. We sampled C. glaucophylla populations throughout the region, including inside a 6000 ha feral animal exclosure. We found no seedlings from 2010/11, except on drainage lines adjacent to roads. Of 255 plots centred on mature trees, only 2% contained older seedlings, and 8% contained saplings, with no differences inside or outside exclosure, and 84% of trees were larger than 20 cm basal diameter. Matching dates of known regeneration with long-term rainfall records suggested that successful regeneration of C. glaucophylla requires a total of 600-720 mm of rain over a 2 year period. Our radiocarbon dating showed the age of three large trees ranged from 106 to 268 years, signifying that such trees in this region likely have only 2-8 climatic opportunities to reproduce.