Seed bank development after the restoration of alluvial grassland via transfer of seed-containing plant material
In the attempt to ensure long-term-conservation of flood meadows along the northern Upper Rhine transfer of seed-containing plant material was successfully applied since 2000. In this highly dynamic habitat, many typical plant species rely on a persistent seed bank for re-establishment after disturbance. But in contrast to the re-established above ground vegetation, seed bank composition remains unknown. Thus the main aims of the study were to elucidate the current seed bank composition and to assess patterns of seed and species traits. To this end we sampled above ground vegetation and seed bank on plant material plots and on control plots left to natural recruitment. Although the seed bank was still dominated by agrestal and ruderal plant species, it already contained seeds of transferred species. Analyses revealed that on the plant material plots seed density of plant material species declined significantly with soil depth, just as similarity between above ground vegetation and seed bank declined. In contrast, the seed bank on control plots comprised significantly lower numbers of transferred species. We found a vertical pattern of seed bank composition: in general, the upper seed bank layer comprised more elongated and large seeds of long-lived, competitive species able to build up transient seed bank. The lower soil layer was dominated by seeds of short-lived, agrestal and ruderal species, producing small, round and long-term persistent seeds. The present study shows that the build up of a seed bank typical of flood meadows is a time-consuming process. Thus restorative management in the early phase of vegetation development should focus on fostering high seed production of transferred species.