Plant Ecology

, 206:59

First online:

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Species trait shifts in vegetation and soil seed bank during fen degradation

  • Agata KlimkowskaAffiliated withCommunity and Conservation Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of GroningenThe Institute for Land Reclamation and Grassland FarmingAlterra, Centrum Landscape Email author 
  • , Renée M. BekkerAffiliated withCommunity and Conservation Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen
  • , Rudy Van DiggelenAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Ecosystem Management Research Group, University of Antwerpen
  • , Wiktor KotowskiAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Ecology and Environmental Conservation, Institute of Botany, University of Warsaw


Fens in Central Europe are characterised by waterlogged organic substrate and low productivity. Human-induced changes due to drainage and mowing lead to changes in plant species composition from natural fen communities to fen meadows and later to over-drained, degraded meadows. Moderate drainage leads to increased vegetation productivity, and severe drainage results in frequent soil disturbances and less plant growth. In the present article, we analyse changes in plant trait combinations in the vegetation and the soil seed bank as well as changes in the seed bank types along gradient of drainage intensity. We hypothesize that an increase in productivity enhances traits related to persistence and that frequent disturbance selects for regeneration traits. We use multivariate statistics to analyse data from three disturbance levels: undisturbed fen, slightly drained fen meadow and severely drained degraded meadow. We found that the abundance of plants regenerating from seeds and accumulating persistent seed banks was increasing with degradation level, while plants reproducing vegetatively were gradually eliminated along the same trajectory. Plants with strong resprouting abilities increased during degradation. We also found that shifts in trait combinations were similar in the aboveground vegetation and in soil seed banks. We found that the density of short-term persistent seeds in the soil is highest in fen meadows and the density of long-term persistent seeds is highest in degraded meadows. The increase in abundance of species with strong regeneration traits at the cost of species with persistence-related traits has negative consequences for the restoration prospects of severely degraded sites.


Drainage Anthropogenic disturbance Shifts in plant trait spectra Seed bank longevity Clonal growth