Plant and Soil

, Volume 333, Issue 1–2, pp 351–364 | Cite as

Desiccation cracks act as natural seed traps in flood-meadow systems

  • Sandra BurmeierEmail author
  • R. Lutz Eckstein
  • Annette Otte
  • Tobias W. Donath
Regular Article


Desiccation cracks are a natural phenomenon of clay-rich soils that form via soil shrinkage during dry conditions. Our aim was to test the seed trapping potential of such cracks and assess its impact on seed bank formation in a flood-meadow ecosystem. We documented crack patterns on permanent plots and analysed the soil seed content along and adjacent to cracks. Seed translocation via cracks was tested with a mark-recapture experiment, and post-entrapment seed fate was tested with a burial experiment. Most cracks re-opened in the same positions in consecutive dry periods. Along cracks, most seeds were found in 10–20 cm depth, whereas adjacent to cracks most seeds were found in 0–5 cm depth. The majority of seeds found in shallow depths adjacent to cracks belonged to species that were also present in the above-ground vegetation, whereas this rate was always under 50% along desiccation cracks. The mark-recapture experiment gave evidence for vertical seed translocation through desiccation cracks. Post-entrapment seed fate differed between species and burial depth, with a trend towards increasing survival with increasing depth. We conclude that desiccation cracks act as natural seed traps, foster seed bank formation and thus influence plant community dynamics in flood meadow systems.


Alluvial meadows Burial experiment Grassland Seed fate Soil seed bank 



We thank Josef Scholz vom Hofe, Christiane Lenz-Kuhl, Jennifer Branch and Simon Kohling for their assistance in the field and in the laboratory, Ralf Schmiede for editing and processing the desiccation crack images, Christian Albrecht for soil classification and Melanie Kühlmann for soil particle size analysis. Comments of Eszter Ruprecht and two anonymous referees considerably improved this paper. The study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG (project number: OT 167/3-1).

Supplementary material

11104_2010_350_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (5 kb)
Online Resource 1 Soil characterization of the study sites (PDF 4 kb)
11104_2010_350_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (16 kb)
Online Resource 2 Seed density (seeds/m2, mean ± SE, 2037 seeds/m2 = 1 seed/sample) and frequency (f; % occurrence in 140 samples) of the species present in the soil seed bank of the study sites (PDF 15 kb)
11104_2010_350_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (61 kb)
Online Resource 3 Daily soil temperature amplitudes in different soil depths at the burial site throughout the course of experiment 2 (Oct 2007-Oct 2009). Temperatures were recorded in 4-hour intervals. Arrows indicate excavation dates (PDF 61 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra Burmeier
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. Lutz Eckstein
    • 1
  • Annette Otte
    • 1
  • Tobias W. Donath
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Research Centre for Biosystems, Land Use and Nutrition (IFZ)Justus Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany

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