Composition and density of the soil seed banks, together with seedling emergence in the field, were examined on Svalbard. 1213 soil samples were collected from six dry-mesic habitats in three regions representing various stages of colonization from bare moraines to full vegetation cover and spanning a range of typical nutrient and thermal regimes. Of the 165 vascular plant species native to Svalbard, 72 were present as mature plants at the study sites and of these 70% germinated seed. Proglacial soil had 12 seedlings per m2, disturbed Dryas heath 131, intact Dryas heath 91, polar heath 715, thermophilic heath 3113, and a bird cliff 10437 seedlings. Highest seed bank species richness was at the thermophilic heath (26 species). Seedlings of 27 species emerged in the field, with fewer seedlings in disturbed habitats (60 seedlings per m2) than in intact Dryas heath (142), suggesting that an absence of ‘safe sites’ limited seedling establishment in disturbed habitats. Measurement of seedling emergence in the field increased awareness of which species are able to germinate naturally. This may be underestimated by up to 31% if greenhouse trials alone are used, owing partly to unsuitability of greenhouse conditions for germination of some species and also to practical limitations of amount of soil sampled. Most thermophilic species failed to germinate and some species present at several sites only germinated from the thermophilic heath seed bank, suggesting that climate constrains recruitment from seeds in the High Arctic.
Nomenclature: Elven & Elvebakk (1996).