Faculté des sciences

Seed bank persistence of clonal weeds in contrasting habitats: implications for control

Hesse, Elze ; Rees, Mark ; Müller-Schärer, Heinz

In: Plant Ecology, 2007, vol. 190, no. 2, p. 233-243

The ability of weeds to form a seed bank is important for their population dynamics and management because it provides a refuge enabling reinvasion after established target plants have died. However, knowledge of the differential seed behaviour of individual species over multiple years and varying environmental conditions is surprisingly rare but necessary for effective control of diverse weed... Plus

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    Summary
    The ability of weeds to form a seed bank is important for their population dynamics and management because it provides a refuge enabling reinvasion after established target plants have died. However, knowledge of the differential seed behaviour of individual species over multiple years and varying environmental conditions is surprisingly rare but necessary for effective control of diverse weed populations. We established a seed burial experiment in alpine habitats differing in management regime (i.e., forest, hay meadow and pasture) to determine whether seeds of the unpalatable perennial weeds, Veratrum album (white hellebore) and Gentiana lutea (yellow gentian) were able to delay germination and remain viable over 3 years. Our study shows that both species formed a short-term persistent seed bank; in the third-year, the soil seed banks of both species were nearly depleted, having declined to <5% of their original size. Both species had strikingly different germination strategies: G. lutea seeds mainly germinated in their first-year, whilst the majority of V. album seeds germinated in their second-year. The fraction of dormant G. lutea seeds increased with seed age, indicating that seeds remained viable after forgoing germination in the previous year. Habitat-specific differences in seed germination increased with seed age, with germination fractions being lowest in moist hay meadows. This suggests that the negative effects of anoxic conditions became more pronounced as seeds aged in hay meadows. Conversely, seed dormancy was equal among habitats. The absence of a long-term persistent seed bank has important implications for the management of both nuisance and endangered-plant populations. In the case of V. album and G. lutea, re-colonization of habitats from the seed bank is unlikely after established plants have been removed.