Plant Ecology

, Volume 174, Issue 2, pp 279–291 | Cite as

Inter-annual variation in the soil seed bank of flood-meadows over two years with different flooding patterns

  • Norbert Hölzel
  • Annette Otte


Persistent soil seed banks are presumed to play a significant role in bridging and exploiting the effects of major flood disturbances in riparian systems. However, presently there is little empirical data on the correlation between flooding and seed bank dynamics. The objective of this study was to assess the impact of inter-annual flooding variation on soil seed bank dynamics in flood-meadows. We analysed seed bank composition at 46 plots along the northern Upper Rhine River, Germany, after two periods with contrasting flooding conditions (1996–1997: low and rare flooding; 1998–1999 high and very frequent flooding). Between both sampling occasions the total number of seedlings emerging from the seed bank decreased by 50% and average species-richness per sample by 30%, irrespective of the sampling depth. Similar decline occurred in mesophytes and wetland species as well as over different functional groups, with the exception of legumes. Considerable compositional changes in the seed bank were also indicated by shifts in DCA ordination and by the comparison of similarity matrices from both years with the Mantel test. The Mantel test also confirmed that compositional changes were more pronounced in the seed bank than in aboveground vegetation. There was poor correlation between the decline in total seed densities and species in the soil seed bank and environmental variables such as flooding duration and ecological groupings such as floodplain compartment and seed bank community types. Further distinct patterns of decline and persistence were evident only at the species level. While 21 species displayed a significant decline, only two species increased. Annual arable weeds and perennial ruderals with high temperature or nutrient requirements to break dark dormancy were amongst the most significantly declining species. In contrast, there was no decline in typical winter annuals and certain perennials that preferably germinate in autumn and fall into dormancy at the beginning of the warm period. Generally, differences in germination requirements and dormancy cycles of species gave the best explanation for the patterns of decline and persistence after intense flooding. Given these findings, the heavy depletion of the persistent soil seed bank we observed is most likely attributed to a post-flood germination flush due to very favourable recruitment conditions prevailing during the draw-down period after early summer flooding in 1999. The results of our study suggest that persistent soil seed banks are of outstanding importance to bridge and exploit the highly variable hydrological conditions that are typical of flood-meadows. Thus, they play a significant role in maintaining the floristic diversity of this habitat type over time and space.

Disturbance DCA-ordination Dormancy cycles Mantel test Recruitment Upper Rhine Flooding variation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norbert Hölzel
    • 1
  • Annette Otte
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Landscape Ecology and Resources ManagementJustus-Liebig-University GiessenGiessenGermany

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