The effects of different forms of land use on germination and establishment of the rare fen species Succisella inflexa were investigated in seed introduction experiments in a mown and an abandoned fen meadow in SE Germany. Treatments included abandonment, mowing in fall and mowing with creation of gaps in the moss and litter layer. Floating capacity of seeds was tested in order to estimate potential dispersal by water.
On the mown meadow, gaps had a slightly positive effect on germination rates, while greatly increasing seedling survival until the next spring. At the abandoned site, litter inhibited germination, whereas mosses had a negative effect on germination and a positive effect on survival rates during the first year after germination. Both germination and seedling establishment were negatively affected by the presence of slug herbivores. On the abandoned site, no seedlings at all survived until the next spring. Even though seeds of Succisella inflexa were capable to float for several weeks and to germinate thereafter, the situation at the field sites indicates that long-distance dispersal is highly unlikely. Our results showed that not only direct effects of abandonment, such as accumulation of litter, may have led to poor germination and poor seedling establishment of the species. Additionally, indirect consequences of changes in land use, such as higher seedling herbivory by slugs and successional vegetation changes due to abandonment, were important in determining habitat quality and availability of microsites for seedling recruitment. Furthermore, early mowing imposed seed limitation on plant populations.