Changes along a disturbance gradient in the density and composition of propagule banks in floodplain aquatic habitats



Abernethy VJ & Willby N (1999) Changes along a disturbance gradient in the density and composition of propagule banks in floodplain aquatic habitats. Plant Ecology, 140 (2), pp. 177-190.;

This study used germination methods to examine the density, species composition and functional composition of propagule banks in a series of riverine wetland aquatic habitats subject to varying degrees of hydrological and management-related disturbance. Under permanent inundation (the conditions prevailing at most sites during the growing season) propagule germination and species richness was low, with floodplain perennials and helophytes particularly affected. Densities of floodplain annuals were largely maintained through continued germination of a few flooding tolerant species. On damp mud (conditions associated with hydrological instability) total seedling number and species richness increased significantly, but species richness of germinating hydrophytes declined. Mean seedling density at 0-0.1m depth was 15450 4400 m􀀀2, reaching a maximum (162 050 m􀀀2) in temporary backwaters. Annual (e.g., Lindernia dubia, Cyperus fuscus) and facultative ruderal species (e.g., Lythrum salicaria and Alisma plantago-aquatica) predominated. Vertical zonation of the propagule bank was weakly developed. The numbers of individuals and species germinating varied significantly between sites. The seasonal, most intensely disturbed sites (temporary backwaters) supported a numerically large, species-rich propagule bank based on floodplain annuals, while the permanent, less disturbed sites (ditches and an oxbow pond) had a small, speciespoor propagule bank composed of hydrophytes and helophytes supplemented by allochthonous seed inputs. Sites intermediate on the gradient had a propagule bank dominated by facultative amphibious, ruderal hydrophytes. The composition of the seed bank and the established vegetation was most similar at the heavily disturbed sites where the seed bank was maintained by vigorously fruiting annuals and supplemented by inputs from temporary habitats upstream. At permanent sites much of the propagule bank composition could be accounted for by inputs of floodborne seed from the immediately adjacent floodplain. The established vegetation at such sites appeared to be maintained mainly by vegetative propagation with recruitment from the propagule bank likely only after severe disturbance. The potential contribution of functionally diverse propagule banks to sucessional processes within fluvially dynamic floodplain aquatic habitats is emphasised.

Aquatic plant; Floodplain; Regeneration; Seed; Wetland

Plant Ecology: Volume 140, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/1999
Date accepted by journal06/10/1998
PublisherKluwer Academic Publishers
Publisher URL…fc47305868e7933d

People (1)


Professor Nigel Willby
Professor Nigel Willby

Professor & Associate Dean of Research, Biological and Environmental Sciences