Seasonal wetlands on the Lake Wales Ridge, Florida: does a relict seed bank persist despite long term disturbance?
Wetlands maintain biodiversity and provide numerous ecosystem services, so the pressure to perform successful restoration consequently is high. However, restoration projects rarely include an in-depth assessment of wetland potential for recovery, and restoration techniques may not be tailored to site-specific concerns. This study examined the seed bank of disturbed wetlands slotted for hydrologic, but not vegetation, restoration to determine if a seed bank comparable to that of nearby undisturbed wetlands persisted despite long-term anthropogenic disturbance. We compared the aboveground vegetation and seed bank compositions under drained, drawdown, and flooded conditions between undisturbed and historically ditched (“disturbed”) wetlands. Disturbed and undisturbed wetlands shared fewer than 30 % of total aboveground species. While undisturbed wetlands were dominated by graminoids, disturbed wetlands had greater cover of forbs. The seed banks of disturbed wetlands had high species diversity, but their composition was dissimilar to that of nearby undisturbed wetlands. In total, the seed banks of both disturbance histories germinated 56 species; drained conditions had the fewest germinants while flooded conditions had the most. Germinant richness was significantly affected by disturbance, moisture, and their interaction; evenness was significantly affected by moisture, and Shannon diversity by disturbance. Because the seed bank of disturbed wetlands included many fast-growing wetland plants, passive vegetation restoration and active hydrologic restoration may result in wetlands overgrown with weedy species and with fewer conservative wetland plants. An understanding of the capacity for seed banks to re-vegetate wetlands post-restoration and approximate undisturbed wetlands is crucial to the overall success of restoration projects.