Plant Ecology

, Volume 133, Issue 1, pp 107-122

First online:

Diversity, composition and guild structure relationships between soil-stored seed banks and mature vegetation in alien plant-invaded South African fynbos shrublands

  • Patricia M. HolmesAffiliated withInstitute for Plant Conservation, Botany Department, University of Cape Town
  • , R. M. CowlingAffiliated withInstitute for Plant Conservation, Botany Department, University of Cape Town

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We investigated vegetation-seed bank relationships at three fynbos sites on the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, and the impacts to these sites of invasion by the alien tree Acacia saligna. Soil-stored seed banks in uninvaded fynbos were of a similar density to those previously measured in fynbos (ca. 1100–1500 seeds m-2) and were dominated by mostly short-lived species. Lack of similarity between mature vegetation and seed banks, suggests that seed banks are poor predictors of mature vegetation composition and structure in fynbos. This lack of correspondence was attributed to the ephemerals (present only in the soil seed bank) and the dominance of serotinous (aerial seed bank) and sprouting (soil seed bank low to absent) species, in mature vegetation. Long-lived seeders were among the 10 most abundant species in the seed banks at all sites and at two sites shrub species contributed more to seed bank richness than any other growth form. Soil-stored seed banks, therefore, boost species richness and diversity both in early post-fire and later seral stages.

There was a decline in fynbos species richness, diversity and abundance both in the standing vegetation and seed banks with increasing duration of invasion by the alien tree, Acacia saligna. However, the rate of decline was higher for the vegetation than the seed banks, suggesting that many fynbos species have long-term persistent seed banks. At two sites, there was no obvious shift in community composition associated with Acacia invasion: invaded sites were depauperate versions of the uninvaded site. However, at a third site, the vegetation composition shifted towards a community dominated by bird-dispersed thicket species and its seed bank shifted towards a community dominated by wind-dispersed perennials. Community composition of the soil seed banks under dense, recent Acacia was very similar to that of the corresponding uninvaded fynbos at all sites, indicating that there is good potential to return to species-rich fynbos vegetation after removal of the alien Acacia. Most seed bank species persisted in the soil seed bank of the long-invaded fynbos at low frequency and density, indicating high seed longevity in many species. We suggest that either a thick Acacia litter layer or a deep (>5 cm) burial moderated the fire and ambient temperature effects, preventing these seeds from germinating after fire and thus preventing loss from the seed bank.

Acacia saligna Invasive species Regeneration mode Seed bank Seed longevity