, Volume 130, Issue 1, pp 21-34

Germinable soil seed banks of anthropogenic native grasslands and grassy forest remnants in temperate south-eastern Australia

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Abstract

Soil seed banks of anthropogenic native grassland and grassy forest remnants on the Gippsland Plain in south-eastern Australia were studied using the seedling emergence method. Intact examples of both ecosystems are rare, owing to extensive agricultural development. Both ecosystems are assumed to have been derived since European settlement from the same original, grassy forest ecosystem. It was hypothesised that species now restricted to grassland remnants might persist in the soil seed bank of forest remnants, and vice versa. This hypothesis was not supported. In total, 25554 seedlings of at least 155 species emerged from forest and grassland seed banks collectively. Small-seeded, annual and perennial herbs were most abundant. Forest seedbanks differed substantially in composition from grassland seedbanks, and both essentially contained a subset of the species in the vegetation. Forest seedbanks contained significantly more species and individuals of annual and perennial native dicotyledons than grassland seedbanks. Seedbanks made a major contribution to local diversity, since many species in the seed bank at each quadrat were not recorded from the vegetation, but only a minor contribution to regional diversity. Species in the seedbank that were absent from all vegetation samples were recorded at few quadrats, except Juncus species, which were widespread and abundant in the seedbank. The apparent absence from forest seed banks of species that are best represented in grassland remnants (and vice versa), suggests that there is little opportunity of recruiting grassland-restricted species in forest remnants by instigating grassland management practices.