Question: The significance of disturbances caused by periodical inundation was investigated with respect to its effects on vegetation dynamics, species richness and fluctuations, and to the relevance of certain plant properties.
Location and Method: At a sod-cut stand within nutrient-poor inland sand dunes, permanent plots along a transect were surveyed over a period of up to nine years after sod cutting.
Results: In contrast to never inundated plots, periodically inundated plots were characterized by low vegetation cover and by high numbers of species belonging to many different communities, each of them with a low cover. Periodical inundations favoured the presence of pioneers, species tolerant of disturbances, species adapted to wet conditions and stoloniferous species. Furthermore, annual fluctuations of species within each plot were higher and most species occurred only sporadically.
Discussion: A comprehensive model is presented describing the relevant processes identified in the littoral zone. Changing water tables result in the creation of gaps. The re-colonization of these gaps follows mainly from vegetative regeneration and less to the dispersion of diaspores. Highest species numbers in the zone of moderate disturbances result from a high rate of re-colonization in spite of local extinctions following each disturbance event. It is suggested that colonization abilities are among the most important features for species occurrence at a site rich in disturbances (more important than competitive abilities and more important than a slow rate of displacement). For nature conservation such sites are very important, because they allow (rare) pioneer species to survive for longer periods of time.