Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1631–1648 | Cite as

Factors determining species richness of soil seed banks in lowland ancient woodlands

  • Hilary E. ErenlerEmail author
  • Paul A. Ashton
  • Michael P. Gillman
  • Jeff Ollerton
Original Paper


The demise of coppicing in UK ancient woodlands, combined with the planting of non-native, fast-growing conifers in the twentieth century, heightens the potential recharge value of ground flora seed banks. Soil cores from adjoining semi-natural and conifer-containing stands in four lowland ancient woods in central England were removed to establish seed bank species richness. During a fourteen-month germination trial soil from two depths yielded 6554 seedlings from 81 species, ten of which showed a strong affinity for ancient woodland conditions. Juncus effusus accounted for 80% of emergent seeds whilst 23 other species, including Lysimachia nummularia and Potentilla sterilis, were represented by only one individual. Species richness is described by a model that explains 40% of observed variance (P < 0.00001). The model has three significant variables: species richness increases as soil pH rises, and decreases with both depth and increasing time since the most recent planting/disturbance event. No difference was found in the density of seeds from species common to paired semi-natural and conifer-containing stands that were separated only by a woodland ride, suggesting prior management and environmental conditions have a greater influence on seed banks than current stand type. Sørensen similarity index values revealed poor congruence between above-ground vegetation and species in the seed bank. Taking pH measurements in conifer stands identified as younger in terms of planting/disturbance may help locate areas where greater numbers of species (including woodland specialists) are located. Caution is required, however, as these seed banks may also contain non-target, competitive species that may swamp the regeneration of woodland specialists.


Ancient wood Ancient forest Soil seed bank Species richness pH Conifer plantations Sørensen GLM 



Ancient semi-natural woodlands


Plantations on ancient woodland sites


Ancient woodland indicator species


General linear model



We would like to thank Cheryl Lundberg and Paul Malcolm of The Forestry Commission for permission to work in the four woods, and for providing information on woodland histories, stand types and ages, Duncan McCollin for his helpful comments during manuscript preparation, and the valuable comments of two anonymous referees that greatly improved the focus of the manuscript. Hilary E. Erenler was partially funded by grants from The Crowther Trust (The Open University) and the T.D. Lewis Fund (The University of Northampton).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hilary E. Erenler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul A. Ashton
    • 2
  • Michael P. Gillman
    • 3
  • Jeff Ollerton
    • 1
  1. 1.Landscape and Biodiversity Research Group, School of Science and TechnologyThe University of NorthamptonNorthamptonUK
  2. 2.Edge Hill UniversityLancashireUK
  3. 3.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

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