Grass litter is a natural seed trap in long-term undisturbed grassland
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Journal of vegetation science. - Uppsala
, p. 495-504
University of Antwerp
Questions: Litter quantity in grasslands is highly affected by disturbance regime and influences seed recruitment of constituent species through differentmechanisms. Does litter act as a mechanical barrier to burial of freshly shed seeds, and does seed morphology affect this? How is the fate and mobility of seeds affected by litter compared to that of seeds in the seed bank? Location: Transylvanian Lowland, Romania. Methods: We analysed the seed content of litter and underlying soil collected from six dry grassland sites having different disturbance histories, ranging from sites that are currently grazed to those that have been long abandoned. We related seed content of litter to the litter quantity, seed morphology and the seed content of soil, and the estimated seed production of the above-ground vegetation. Results: Grass litter represented a natural trap for seeds; we identified significant quantities of seeds of a large number of species (37) within litter samples, and there was a mass effect in the seed trapping by litter -higher litter quantities trapped more seeds. As a long-term consequence, we expected that seed bank stores would be gradually depleted in abandoned grassland due to the elimination of seeds by litter, but this was not the case. The higher seed production of the above-ground vegetation in undisturbed sites very probably compensated for seed losses through litter. Seeds retained in the litter were larger, more rounded and had appendages than those in soil. Especially for seeds meeting any of these criteria, litter represents a hazardous medium, since the seeds may fail or have delayed germination. Conclusions: The role of litter as a seed trap is more relevant in grasslands that have not been disturbed for a long time, where litter seed entrapment can exert a selective pressure on certain species, and thus drive community assembly in grasslands.