Composition of soil seed banks in southern California coastal sage scrub and adjacent exotic grassland

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Soil seed banks are important to many plant communities and are recognized as an important component of management plans. Understanding seed bank composition and density is especially important when communities have been invaded by exotic species and must be managed to promote desirable species. We examined germinable soil seed banks in southern California coastal sage scrub (CSS) that is heavily invaded by exotic grasses and in adjacent exotic grassland. Soils from both communities had similar seed banks, dominated by high densities of exotic grass and forb species. Up to 4,000 exotic grass seeds and at least 400 exotic forb seeds/m2 were found in most soils, regardless of aboveground vegetation type. Native forbs averaged 400 seeds/m2 in grass-dominated areas and about 800 in shrub-dominated soils. Shrub seed density was <1 and <10 seeds/m2 in grass- and shrub-dominated areas, respectively, indicating that the shrub seed bank is not persistent compared to annuals. We also compared pre- and post-burn soil seed banks from one location that burned in October 2003. Late-season burning in both grass- and CSS-dominated areas disproportionately reduced exotic grass seed densities relative to native seed densities. The similarity of the seed banks in adjacent grass and shrub communities suggests that without intervention, areas currently dominated by CSS may become more similar to grass-dominated areas in terms of aboveground vegetation. In such areas, the first growing season following a wildfire is a window of opportunity for increasing native diversity at a time when density of exotic grass seeds is low.

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Christine Moen, Tom Ash, Jud Monroe, and others at the Shipley Multi-species Habitat Reserve were helpful in providing locations for this study. Rob Lennox of the UC Riverside Botany and Plant Sciences Department was instrumental in arranging for glasshouse space and logistics. We are thankful to the UC Riverside Center for Conservation Biology for support. We also thank Jodie Holt and Richard Minnich for comments on previous versions of this manuscript. This project was funded in part by the Shipley-Skinner Endowment to the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and by NSF DEB 04-21530.

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Correspondence to Robert D. Cox.

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At time of research, Robert D. Cox was graduate student.

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Cox, R.D., Allen, E.B. Composition of soil seed banks in southern California coastal sage scrub and adjacent exotic grassland. Plant Ecol 198, 37 (2008).

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  • Bromus
  • Disturbance
  • Ecological management
  • Erodium
  • Invasive species
  • Wildfire