Question: Does the degree and timing of disturbance contribute significantly to the pattern and process of regeneration in plant communities as a consequence of the availability and number of species of propagules present?
Location: Acid grassland at 230 m a.s.l., eastern Scotland, UK.
Methods: Plots were surface disturbed or had their soil profile inverted at monthly intervals at 12 dates during a year. Seed bank and seed rain were assessed at each treatment time. The effect of disturbance intensity and timing on the regenerating vegetation was assessed.
Results: Removing the seed bank significantly slowed regeneration, as it contributed 43 % of developing cover after one year where it was present.
At an individual seed level, seed in the seed rain had a much higher likelihood of contributing to the regenerating vegetation than a seed in the seed bank. Some species showed a reliance on the seed bank for regeneration, and hence there was a significant difference in the vegetation that developed between plots with the seed bank intact and those where it was removed. Winter disturbed plots (little seed rain) had slower rates of re-vegetation than summer disturbed plots. Timing had little effect on species composition, though a significantly higher cover of perennial forb species developed on the winter disturbed plots.
Conclusion: Removing the contribution of the seed bank had a greater effect on the composition of regenerating vegetation than the effect of seasonal variation on the seed rain.
Nomenclature: Stace (1997).