Question: Can seeds in the seed bank be considered as a potential source of material for the restoration of European plant communities including forest, marsh, grassland and heathland?
Methods: This study reviews seed bank studies (1990–2006) to determine if they provide useful and reliable results to predict restoration success. We formally selected 102 seed bank studies and analyzed differences between four plant community types in several seed bank characteristics, such as seed density, species richness and similarity between seed bank and vegetation. We also assessed the dominant genera present in the seed bank in each plant community.
Results: We observed remarkably consistent trends when comparing seed bank characteristics among community types. Seed density was lowest for grassland and forest communities and highest in marshes, whereas species richness, diversity and evenness of the seed bank community was lowest in heathland and highest in grassland. Similarity between seed bank and vegetation was low in forest, and high in grassland. There was a lot of overlap of the dominant genera of seed bank communities in all studies.
Conclusions: The absence of target species and the high dominance of early successional species, in particular Juncus spp., indicate that restoration of target plant communities relying only on seed germination from the seed bank is in most cases not feasible. The exceptions are heathland and early successional plant communities occurring after temporally recurring disturbances. Restoration of plant communities composed of late successional species, such as woody species or herbaceous species typical of woodland or forest rely mainly on seed dispersal and not on in situ germination.