Repeated Drought Alters Resistance of Seed Bank Regeneration in Baldcypress Swamps of North America
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Recurring drying and wetting events are likely to increase in frequency and intensity in predicted future droughts in the central USA and alter the regeneration potential of species. We explored the resistance of seed banks to successive droughts in 53 sites across the nine locations in baldcypress swamps in the southeastern USA. Along the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley and northern Gulf of Mexico, we investigated the capacity of seed banks to retain viable seeds after successive periods of drying and wetting in a greenhouse study. Mean differences in species richness and seed density were compared to examine the interactions of successive droughts, geographical location and water regime. The results showed that both species richness and total density of germinating seedlings decreased over repeated drought trials. These responses were more pronounced in geographical areas with higher annual mean temperature. In seed banks across the southeastern swamp region, most species were exhausted after Trial 2 or 3, except for semiaquatic species in Illinois and Tennessee, and aquatic species in Texas. Distinct geographical trends in seed bank resistance to drought demonstrate that climate-induced drying of baldcypress swamps could influence the regeneration of species differently across their ranges. Despite the health of adult individuals, lack of regeneration may push ecosystems into a relict status. Seed bank depletion by germination without replenishment may be a major conservation threat in a future with recurring droughts far less severe than megadrought. Nevertheless, the protection of moist refugia might aid conservation.
Keywordsclimate change geographical gradient germination potential megadrought seed bank Taxodium distichum swamp
This work was funded by the Ecosystems Program of the US Geological Survey. Special thanks to Evelyn Anemaet and others for field and greenhouse assistance. Any use of trade, firm or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government. This work was also funded by the Introduction Program of International Advanced Forestry Science and Technology (948 Program, Number 2014-4-75) of State Forestry Administration, China.
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