The role of water depth and soil temperature in determining initial composition of prairie wetland coenoclines

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In this study, we examined the effects of water depth and temperature on seedling recruitment from a prairie wetland seed bank. We collected seed-bank samples from natural and restored prairie pothole wetlands in northwestern Iowa and combined them into a single sample. We examined seedling recruitment from this seed-bank sample in an experimental study using a factorial design of 4 temperature treatments (5° night and 15° day to 20° night and 30° day) and 3 water-depth treatments (0, 2, and 7 cm).

Principal Components Analysis showed that both water depth and temperature had significant effects on the composition of the seedling community as measured by changes in relative stem density and biomass. Water depth had its strongest effects on stem density while temperature had its strongest effects on biomass.

For the 22 most common species, stem density varied with water depth for 95% of the species and with temperature for 50% of the species. Most species with water depth responses had lower stem counts as water depth increased, and for the majority of species with temperature responses stem density increased with temperature.

Total, annual, and perennial species richness was negatively correlated with water depth. Total and annual species richness was positively correlated to temperature, while perennial species richness was unresponsive to temperature. In addition, species found at low elevations as adults emerged at higher rates in the deep water treatments while species that occurred at higher elevations as adults had their highest emergence rates in the low water treatments.

Our results suggest that differences in environmental conditions along coenoclines can affect the initial distribution of species emerging from the soil seed bank. Water depth sorted seedlings according to their adult water-depth tolerances, and temperature determined the proportion of annuals in the seedling community.

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