, Volume 108, Issue 4, pp 652-662

Revegetation following soil disturbance in a California meadow: the role of propagule supply

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Abstract

Revegetation following a disturbance event initially should be constrained by the abundance and types of propagules available at the disturbed site. I tested this idea by conducting two experiments in which I created artificial soil disturbances by excavating or burying pre-existing grassland vegetation. In the first experiment, I varied disturbance intensity (depth), to investigate the consequences for revegetation when numbers of surviving propagules (dormant seeds and bulbs) were altered. In the second experiment, I varied the timing of disturbance, to investigate the consequences when disturbed sites experienced differing exposures to seasonal patterns of clonal growth and seed dispersal. I sampled these experiments from 1991 to 1993, and have interpreted their results using measurements of the seed bank, the bulb bank, and the seed rain. In the first (depth) experiment, bulbs declined in abundance with burial depth and were scarcer in deeper excavations. In contrast, numbers of annual graminoids initially showed no trends with respect to disturbance depth. These results reflect the depth distributions of the seed and bulb banks. Since bulbs occur deeply in the soil, progressively deeper disturbances left fewer survivors. Similarly, perennial graminoids could grow through the shallowest burials. In contrast, since the annual-graminoid-dominated seed bank is concentrated near the soil surface, disturbance depth mattered less to these species: any disturbance removing the surface layer was equally destructive. In the second (timing) experiment, more annual graminoids initially occurred in older plots. This result reflects seasonal patterns of seed production: plots exposed to more of the annual-graminoid-dominated seed rain supported higher densities of annual graminoids as a result. In subsequent years, the vegetation of most plots in both experiments was increasingly dominated by annual graminoids, again as a consequence of their great abundance in the seed rain. These results indicate that interactions between soil disturbances and sources of propagules play an important role in controlling early stages of succession in newly created gaps. They also suggest that disturbance may play different roles in communities characterized by species with different reproductive strategies. Understanding sources of colonists will improve our ability to predict the effects of disturbance.