Distribution, species composition and management implications of seed banks in southern New England coastal plain ponds

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Neill, Christopher
Bezerra, Maira Ometto
McHorney, Richard
O’Dea, Claire B.
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Freshwater wetland
Pond shore
Seed germination
Buried seeds that germinate during periods of low water or water level drawdown can play important roles in shaping plant community composition, community dynamics and species richness in ecosystems with fluctuating water levels. Northeastern US coastal plain ponds have fluctuating water levels and contain a characteristic shoreline flora that contains many rare plants. The objectives of this study were to: (1) test whether geographically distant ponds in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard had distinct seed banks, (2) determine if hydrologic status as permanent and ephemeral ponds led to differences in seed banks, and (3) examine seed diversity and seed abundance across gradients of shoreline elevations and sediment characteristics. Viable seeds of 45 plant species were identified from 9 ponds. Native species dominated pond-shore seed banks and made up 89 to 100% of all species. There was high overlap in seed bank composition across hydrological classes and geographic regions. One hydrological class captured 73-76% of total species and one geographical region captured 69-78% of the total species recovered from the entire suite of seed bank samples. Seeds were relatively evenly distributed along the shorelines of ephemeral ponds but seed diversity and abundance were lower at low elevations in permanent ponds. Results suggest that strategies to protect pond shorelines to capture maximum diversity of coastal plain pond plants contained in pond sediment seed banks should be implemented across pond hydrologic classes and across a wide geographic area. Shoreline seed distributions indicate that ground-water withdrawals or climate changes that lower pond water levels in permanent ponds will reduce the diversity and abundance of plants recovered from seed banks by shifting water levels to a shoreline zone of high sediment organic matter where seed densities are lower. This effect will be much less in ephemeral ponds where seed diversity and abundance on pond bottoms was high.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2009. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Elsevier B.V. for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Biological Conservation 142 (2009): 1350-1361, doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2009.01.020.
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