Question: Community structure may be influenced by patterns of dispersed seeds (seed rain) because they contribute to the template of plant community development. We explored factors influencing seed rain in a system dominated by tidal water, where direction and magnitude of water flow are difficult to predict, unlike many other hydrochorous systems where water flow is directional. We posed three main questions: (1) are patterns in seed rain linked to effects of hydrodynamic variability; (2) do these patterns in seed rain reflect distribution of seed sources and seed production; and (3) what are the implications for the assembly of tidal communities?
Location: Salt marshes on the Wadden island of Schiermonnikoog, The Netherlands.
Methods: Species compositions of vegetation, seed rain, seed production and driftlines along a chronosequence of communities were compared. We also studied seed movement by sowing Astroturf® mats with seeds and checking for seeds remaining after a single tidal inundation.
Results: Storm surges had a significant effect on seed-rain patterns as the highest density and diversity of captured seeds were found during a stormy period. Seed rain of the youngest communities was more influenced by storms than that of older communities. Patterns in seed rain generally followed similar patterns in the distribution of established plants, and seed production.
Conclusions: Results suggested mostly local dispersal of seeds. However, there was some evidence of long-distance dispersal occurring during storm surges in younger communities that are regularly inundated with tidal water. The possible role of seed retention in constraining community development, rather than dispersal per se, is further discussed.
Nomenclature: van der Meijden (1996).