Questions: Does the litter layer of Pteridium aquilinum (bracken) act as a barrier to certain species in the seed bank? Does bracken control/restoration treatment affect seed transfer through the litter layer?
Location: Five experiments at three sites across the UK covering two major vegetation types; acid-grassland and heath-land.
Methods: At each experiment a range of bracken control and vegetation restoration treatments were applied for about ten years. The seed bank was sampled in both the bracken litter and the soil. The cover (%) of each species in the vegetation and the bracken litter abundance (cover and depth) was also estimated.
Results: The bracken litter layer acts as an inert barrier as it contained a large proportion of seeds available in the litter-soil profile (38% - 67% of the total). Bracken litter depth and cover also influenced significantly the seed bank composition in both the bracken litter and the soil. These effects were site-specific, and species-specific. The application of treatments changed significantly the balance between seed inputs and outputs in the bracken litter layer for some species. This was either a positive or negative response relative to the untreated control plots.
Conclusion: For heathland and acid-grassland restoration, the bracken litter layer may be an important seed source, but it must be disturbed particularly before seed addition.
Abbreviation: RDA = Redundancy Analysis.
Nomenclature: Stace (1997).