Desert soil seed banks: A refuge for plant diversity and a resource for regeneration

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Sarah Barga

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After disturbances, regeneration from seed plays an important role in plant community recovery. Soil seed banks can lead to natural regeneration, or landscapes can be actively managed by adding seeds of desirable species. Arid systems tend to experience high environmental variability, which can lead to high levels of seed dormancy. This can result in a higher amount of species diversity within the intact soil seed bank than exists within the above-ground vegetation. When seeding is necessary, understanding seed dormancy can be critical for achieving restoration goals on short timescales (e.g. managing for temporal continuity within above-ground native plant communities). When a passive restoration approach may be desirable, it is important to understand when and where dormant seeds have accumulated in soil seed banks awaiting appropriate conditions to stimulate their germination. I will present information on species and population-level differences in seed germination characteristics for a suite of common, native Great Basin forbs in the western United States, showing the variety of dormancy strategies exhibited among species and across landscapes. Further, I will present information on seed bank variation across 17 locations within the Great Basin sagebrush (Artemisia) steppe, asking whether there are environmental or biotic predictors associated with seed diversity and abundance. Understanding when soil seed banks can help or hinder restoration and understanding the range of seed dormancy strategies that exist among species and populations can help managers decide when, where, and what to seed, or when it may be appropriate to take a passive approach to community recovery.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration