You are here

The hidden potential within soil seed banks

Date: July 31, 2019

Dormant seeds in the soil produce the plant communities that will regenerate after disturbance


A variety of environmental characteristics were measured during field surveys, including: shrub cover, ground cover, and percent cover for all plant species at 20 random locations for each site.
A variety of environmental characteristics were measured during field surveys, including: shrub cover, ground cover, and percent cover for all plant species at 20 random locations for each site.
Dormant seeds within the soil seed bank are an important component of plant communities that contribute to an area’s regeneration potential after disturbance. Uncovering relationships between environmental factors and seed bank characteristics can improve our understanding of how plant communities respond to disturbance and environmental change. We conducted field surveys and collected soil seed bank samples at 17 sites in sagebrush-steppe dominated areas of the Great Basin that varied in above-ground vegetation, fire history, and grazing use. We investigated whether shrub cover, ground cover, climate, or disturbance history were predictive of seed densities, diversity, presence of rare species, and similarity between above-ground and seed bank plant community composition. Fire frequency and a course measure of grazing use were not highly predictive of seed bank dynamics. Shrub cover predicted multiple seed bank characteristics: Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) was associated with increased densities of introduced species, Green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) was associated with increased densities of native annual species, and Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) was associated with increased numbers of rare native species. Our results indicate that areas dominated by sagebrush would have the greatest regenerative potential of native species within their seed banks.
A sample of plant diversity found in the soil seed bank across our 17 sampling locations. In total, we identified 126 species in the above-ground community and 62 species within the soil seed bank.
A sample of plant diversity found in the soil seed bank across our 17 sampling locations. In total, we identified 126 species in the above-ground community and 62 species within the soil seed bank.

Sites that burned <10 years ago had greater similarity between above-ground and seed bank species composition, primarily due to low diversity and/or an abundance of invasive species.

Field surveys of shrub and ground cover may be useful tools for predicting seed bank characteristics in areas of sagebrush-steppe vegetation, and may help prioritize restoration activities after disturbance.

 

Barga S, Leger EA. 2018. Shrub cover and fire history predict seed bank composition in an arid shrubland. Journal of Arid Environments 154: 40-50.

Soil seed banks: a sneak preview into the future



Principal Investigators: 
Principal Investigators - External: 
Elizabeth Leger - University of Nevada-Reno
Forest Service Partners: 
Work funded by the Great Basin Native Plant Project
(USFS-RMRS/BLM)