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Germinable Soil Seed Banks and the Restoration Potential of Abandoned Cropland on the Chinese Hilly-Gullied Loess Plateau

Abstract

Poor vegetation cover is generally considered to be a major factor causing soil erosion on the Loess Plateau in China. It has been argued that tree planting restoration is ineffective, and natural re-vegetation is an alternative ecological solution for restoring abandoned cropland and controlling soil erosion. The aims of this study were to investigate the characteristics of soil seed banks and to assess the natural restoration potential of abandoned cropland in the hilly-gullied Loess Plateau. The soil seed bank was identified by the germination method with the soil samples, which were collected at four sampling times (April, August, and October 2005 and August 2006) from 12 plots abandoned 3–30 years prior to sampling. The seed bank densities of all of the samples in the 0–10 cm soil layer varied from 1,067 ± 225 to 14,967 ± 1,606 seeds m−2. Fifty-one species (24 annual and 27 perennial species) belonging to 18 families were identified, and 39% of these species belonged to the families Compositae and Gramineae. The pioneer species Artemisia scoparia dominated the seed bank, with an average seed density of 3,722 seeds m−2, and accounted for 74.4% of the seeds in the bank. The local dominant species (such as Lespedeza davurica, Artemisia gmelinii, Bothriochloa ischaemun and Stipa bungeana) of the later succession stages also existed at densities varying from 17 to 1, 383 seeds m−2. The combination of soil seed bank characteristics, reproductive traits of the species, the specific landscape conditions indicates that the potential to restoring the abandoned croplands in the hilly-gullied Loess Plateau via natural re-vegetation could be substantial.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the NSFC projects (40771126; 40571094; 40271074) and innovation project of Northwest A & F University (CX200906) for funding this research, and acknowledge the assistance of Ansai Ecological Experimental Station of Soil and Water Conservation, CAS. We also thank two anonymous referees who gave valuable comments on early versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ju-Ying Jiao.

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Wang, N., Jiao, JY., Jia, YF. et al. Germinable Soil Seed Banks and the Restoration Potential of Abandoned Cropland on the Chinese Hilly-Gullied Loess Plateau. Environmental Management 46, 367–377 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-010-9535-x

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Keywords

  • Abandoned cropland
  • Chinese hilly-gullied Loess Plateau
  • Vegetation restoration
  • Seed germination method
  • Soil seed bank