Spatial and temporal variability in seed dynamics of machair sand dune plant communities, the Outer Hebrides, Scotland
The subjects of seed banks and seed rain represent comparatively neglected areas of biogeography, yet at the community scale, exhibit interesting patterns in both space and time. This paper describes the seed bank and seed rain characteristics of the machair sand dune communities of the Outer Hebrides. As well as looking at individual species distributions and variability, the seed banks and seed rain are examined in terms of their detailed subcommunity composition and its local spatial and temporal variation. The machair plant (sub)communities show extensive degrees of anthropogenic modification because of past and present agricultural management, including cultivation for cereals over wide areas and for potatoes in large numbers of ‘lazy beds’ or small patches. Thus over the historical period, large areas of machair have undergone regular ploughing and cultivation, which have provided the opportunity for a patchwork of secondary succession to occur. This pattern continues to the present day. Furthermore, most other non-cultivated plant (sub)communities are intensively grazed, primarily by cattle and also by sheep and rabbits.Location
South Uist, the Outer Hebrides, north-west Scotland.Methods
At two carefully selected locations, a range of these various successional subcommunities have been sampled for their seed banks, by taking cores and for their seed rain, by using specially designed traps located where each seed bank sample was removed. This paired sampling strategy allowed direct comparison of the seed bank and the seed rain. Both individual species distributions and the community assemblages of seed bank/seed rain species are examined in space and time using techniques of numerical classification [two-way indicator species analysis (TWINSPAN)] and ordination [detrended correspondence analysis (DCA)].Results and conclusions
There is considerable heterogeneity within and between machair subcommunities in terms of seed bank and seed rain characteristics. The soil seed banks and seed rain of the agriculturally disturbed machair subcommunities are consistently more dense and more species rich than non-cultivated areas of the machair. Overall, machair seed banks are small and stable with no discernible seasonal trends in either size or species composition. In contrast, seed rain on the machair is characterized by a distinct temporal trend. Both seed banks and seed rain are potentially very poor sources of propagules for recolonization following disturbance, indicating that the majority of revegetation following anthropogenic and/or environmental interference is through vegetative reproduction.