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Effects of the litter layer of Pteridium aquilinum on seed banks under experimental restoration

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Abstract:

Questions: Does the litter layer of Pteridium aquilinum (bracken) act as a barrier to certain species in the seed bank? Does bracken control/restoration treatment affect seed transfer through the litter layer?

Location: Five experiments at three sites across the UK covering two major vegetation types; acid-grassland and heathland.

Methods: At each experiment a range of bracken control and vegetation restoration treatments were applied for about ten years. The seed bank was sampled in both the bracken litter and the soil. The cover (%) of each species in the vegetation and the bracken litter abundance (cover and depth) was also estimated.

Results: The bracken litter layer acts as an inert barrier as it contained a large proportion of seeds available in the litter-soil profile (38% - 67% of the total). Bracken litter depth and cover also influenced significantly the seed bank composition in both the bracken litter and the soil. These effects were site-specific, and species-specific. The application of treatments changed significantly the balance between seed inputs and outputs in the bracken litter layer for some species. This was either a positive or negative response relative to the untreated control plots.

Conclusion: For heathland and acid-grassland restoration, the bracken litter layer may be an important seed source, but it must be disturbed particularly before seed addition.

Keywords: INVASIVE PLANTS; LITTER DECOMPOSITION; SAFE SITE; SEED DISPERSAL; SEED GERMINATION; SEED MORPHOLOGY; SEEDLING ESTABLISHMENT; VEGETATION RE-ESTABLISHMENT

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2006

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