This is the first quantitative study of seed bank characteristics in North American alvar habitats. We assessed seed bank density, species richness, and species composition in 75 plots distributed among five alvar sites in Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, Canada, each of which displayed areas of high and low vegetation cover within the alvar and a fully forested perimeter area. Forested habitats immediately adjacent to alvar patches contained minimal seed banks for species restricted to the alvar patches. Open alvars contained less than 1% seeds from woody forest species. This suggests that forest is not invading adjacent alvar habitat via seeds and that adjacent forest does not contain a reservoir of alvar seeds.
When compared to areas on the alvar with high vascular plant cover, areas with low cover contained a slightly smaller viable seed bank, but seed banks from high and low vegetation cover plots had similar species composition and species richness. High vegetation cover plots had slightly higher mean and maximum soil depths compared with low cover plots, but no differences in other physical and chemical parameters. Thus, spatial heterogeneity in plant cover is associated only weakly with heterogeneity in below-ground factors. Despite the availability of seed and soil resources, vegetation dynamics are constrained in areas with low plant cover, and thus alvar community development seems to respond non-linearly to resource availability.
Nomenclature: Newmaster et al. (1998).