The dispersal capacity of vegetative propagules of riparian fen species
Flowing water can disperse a high number of seeds and vegetative propagules over long distances and is therefore a very important dispersal vector in wetland habitats. Although the dispersal of seeds is relatively well studied, the dispersal of vegetative propagules has received less attention. However, in riparian and aquatic systems where many species have clonal growth forms, it can be very important. The relative importance of vegetative propagules in the dispersal of fen species was assessed first by determining their relative abundance in the field and second, by determining the buoyancy of plant fragments of ten fen species experimentally. On average, vegetative propagules made up 3.2–58.9% of the total propagule number (mainly Elodea nutallii). Buoyancy of the tested species ranged from 25 days to over 6 months. Surprisingly, the propagules of Stratiotes aloides and Hydrocharis morsus-ranae increased buoyancy when spring started (after ca. 100 days). The results demonstrate that vegetative propagules of riparian and aquatic fen species have a high capacity to disperse over long distances via water and are therefore likely to play an important role in the colonisation of new habitats. Especially because in nine out of the ten species tested, over 50% of the propagules were still viable after 6 months of floating.