To assess seed bank persistence of target species in endangered flood-meadows (alliances Cnidion and Molinion), we investigated established vegetation and soil seed bank of 46 plots for 3 yr and 2 yr, respectively. As traits of seed persistence we calculated various continuous indices that refer to the frequency and abundance of species in above-ground vegetation and at different soil depths. Furthermore, we tested the significance and soundness of easily observed traits such as maximum seed density per plot and seed attributes (mass, size and shape) as predictors of soil seed bank features.
In linear regression, SAI, the seed accumulation index, showed the best agreement (R2 = 0.64) with the seed longevity index that was derived from the database by Thompson et al. (1997) for a set of 115 species. The second best predictor (R2 = 0.39) of the seed longevity index was maximum seed density per plot in the lower soil layer (5–10 cm). Depth distribution indices and seed attributes showed weaker but still significant relations. The dynamic character of flood-meadows was reflected by a large proportion of species with a strong tendency to accumulate seeds in the soil relative to their importance in above-ground vegetation. Most of these species have a ruderal strategy, exploiting gaps after flood disturbances, while the dominants of flood-meadows tended to have short-lived seed banks. Compared to other grassland types, a relatively large proportion of rare and endangered target species can be expected to form long-term persistent seed banks. However, only under marginal conditions that facilitate seed survival in the soil (e.g. fallow) are these persistent seed banks likely to contribute to restoration.
We conclude that easily observed traits of persistence such as seed weight, size and shape do not meet the accuracy needed in scientific and practical applications. Thus, there is a crucial demand for further seed bank studies in poorly investigated habitats and of rare species.
Nomenclature: Wisskirchen & Haeupler (1998).
Abbreviation: SAI = Seed accumulation index.