, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 33-48

Seed bank and vegetation composition of forest stands of varying age in central Belgium: consequences for regeneration of ancient forest vegetation

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Abstract

Vegetation composition differs significantly between ancientand recent forest, due to slow colonization capacity of typical forest speciesand the higher abundance of early successional species in recent forest.However, little is known about differences in persistent seed bank compositionbetween ancient and recent forest and about the interaction between seed bankand vegetation in relation with forest age. We surveyed the seed bank and theunderstorey vegetationcomposition in transects from ancient to recent forest. Seed bank and fieldlayer vegetation characteristics and similarity between seed bank andvegetationwere analysed in relation to recent forest age and distance to the ancientforest. A total of 39 species and 14,911 seedlings germinated, whichcorresponds with a seed density of 12,426 seeds/m2.Total seed density is significantly higher in the youngest recent forest parcel(55 years). Also the seed bank composition in the youngest forest parceldifferssignificantly from the other parcels. After a longer period of reforestation,the seed bank approaches that of the ancient forest, suggesting seed bankdepletion, although the seed bank is permanently replenished to some extent byseed bank forming species from local disturbances. Seed bank composition doesnot change significantly with distance to the ancient forest. Similaritybetween seed bank and vegetation composition, nomatter the forest age, is very low, but decreases with increasing forest age.The most frequent species in the vegetation are absent in the seed bank andvice versa. The contribution of forest species is highin the vegetation and they almost not occur in the seed bank, while species offorest edges and clearings, and species of disturbed environments are morefrequent in the seed bank. The seed bank is mainly composed of earlysuccessional species of former forest stages or species which temporary occurinsmall-scale disturbances. The seed bank may enhance the negative effects ofearlysuccessional, mainly competitive species to the forest species richness in therecent forest. In this respect, forest management should minimise forestdisturbances, to prevent germination of competitive species form buriedseeds.