, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 993-1016

Soil seed banks of two montane riparian areas: implications for restoration

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Abstract

Understanding the role of seed banks can be important for designing restoration projects. Using the seedling emergence method, we investigated the soil seed banks of two montane, deciduous riparian forest ecosystems of southeastern Arizona. We contrasted the seed banks and extant vegetation of Ramsey Canyon, which is the site of riparian restoration activities, with that of Garden Canyon, which has been less affected by human land uses. Fewer plant species were found at Ramsey Canyon than Garden Canyon, for both the seed bank and extant vegetation, and the vegetation at Ramsey Canyon (seed bank and extant) had consistently drier wetland indicator scores. As well, vegetation patterns within sampling zones (channel margins and adjacent riparian forests) differed between canyons. At Garden Canyon channel margins, the seed bank and extant vegetation had relatively high similarity, with herbaceous wetland perennial species dominating. Extant vegetation in the floodplain riparian forest zone at Garden Canyon had a drier wetland indicator score than the seed bank, suggesting that the floodplains are storing seeds dispersed from wetter fluvial surfaces. Vegetation patterns for Ramsey Canyon channel margins were similar to those for Garden Canyon floodplains. Vegetation patterns in the Ramsey Canyon riparian forest zone were indicative of non-flooded conditions with an abundance of upland species in the soil seed bank and extant vegetation. Channel geomorphology measurements indicated that much of the riparian forest zone at Ramsey Canyon is functionally a terrace, a condition that may be a legacy of channel erosion from historic land uses. Steep, erodible channel slopes may contribute to the low seed bank germinant density at Ramsey Canyon channel margins, and narrower flood-prone area may explain the greater terrestrialization of the vegetation in both sampling zones. We recommend testing the use of donor soils from more diverse stream reaches to restore biodiversity levels at Ramsey Canyon, following restoration activities such as channel-widening. Seed banks from Garden Canyon, for example, although predominantly consisting of herbaceous perennials, would supply species with a range of moisture tolerances, life spans, and growth forms. We also recommend that restorationists take care not to harm seed banks exposed during removal of introduced species; at Ramsey Canyon, soil seed banks were equally diverse in areas with high and low cover of the introduced Vinca major (a legacy of Ramsey Canyon land use).