Herbaceous understory regeneration from seed in ancient woodlands of temperate Europe

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Cristina Blandino, Eduardo Fernández-Pascual, Rosemary J. Newton, Hugh W. Pritchard

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European ancient woodlands are subject to land use change and herbaceous understory species can be threatened because of their poor ability to colonize isolated forest patches. The regeneration niche can determine the species assembly of a community and seed germination traits are important descriptors of it. We analysed ecological records for 208 herbaceous species regarded as indicators of ancient woodlands in Europe, collated data on seed germination traits, reviewed plant regeneration strategies, and measured internal seed morphology traits. The relationship between plant regeneration strategies and ecological requirements was explored for 57 species using ordination and classification analysis, revealing three germination strategies. Species growing in closed canopy areas tend to have morphological seed dormancy, often requiring darkness and low temperatures for germination. Their shoots emerge in early spring, thus avoiding the competition for light from canopy species. These species are separated into two groups: autumn and late winter germinators. The third strategy is defined by open-forest plants with a preference for gaps, forest edges and riparian forests. They have physiological seed dormancy, germinating in light and at warmer temperatures, with seedlings emerge in spring or summer. Seed germination traits are fundamental to determining which species are good or poor colonizers and could provide a more detailed understanding of species distribution patterns than adult plant traits. Seed dormancy type, temperature stratification and light requirements for seed germination are all important drivers of forest floor colonization patterns and should be considered when undertaking ecological recovery initiatives in temperate woodland understories.

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