, Volume 194, Issue 1, pp 85-98
Date: 03 Apr 2007

Impact of flooding on potential and realised grassland species richness

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In order to reduce flood risk, river management policies advise floodplain restoration and the recreation of water retention areas. These measures may also offer opportunities for the restoration of species-rich floodplain habitats through rewetting and the restoration of flood dynamics. The potential to enhance biodiversity in such flood restoration areas is, however, still subject to debate. In this paper we investigate whether flooding along a small altered lowland river can contribute to the potential and realised species richness of semi-natural meadows. We compare the seed bank and vegetation composition of flooded and non-flooded semi-natural meadows and test the hypothesis that flooding contributes to an input of diaspores into the meadow seed banks, thereby promoting seed density and potential species richness. Furthermore we hypothesise that, where habitat conditions are suitable, flooding leads to a higher realised species richness. Results showed that seed densities in flooded meadows were significantly higher than in non-flooded meadows. The seed banks of flooded meadows also contained a higher proportion of exclusively hydrochorous species. However, the seed bank species richness, as well as the species richness realised in the vegetation did not differ significantly between flooded and non-flooded meadows. Finally, the seed bank and standing vegetation of flooded sites showed larger differences in species composition and Ellenberg nitrogen distribution than non-flooded sites. From these results we conclude that, although flooding does contribute to the density and composition of the seed bank, most imported seeds belong to only a few species. Therefore, it is unlikely that flooding substantially enhances the potential species richness. Furthermore, even if new species are imported as seeds into the seed bank, it seems unlikely that they would be able to establish in the standing vegetation. However, it is unclear which factors impede the establishment of imported species in the vegetation. The implications of our findings for flood meadow restoration are discussed.