A comparison of seed banks across a sand dune successional gradient at Lake Michigan dunes (Indiana, USA)

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In habitats where disturbance is frequent, seed banks are important for the regeneration of vegetation. Sand dune systems are dynamic habitats in which sand movement provides intermittent disturbance. As succession proceeds from bare sand to forest, the disturbance decreases. At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, we examined the seed banks of three habitat types across a successional gradient: foredunes, secondary dunes, and oak savanna. There were differences among the types of species that germinated from each of the habitats. The mean seed bank density increased across the successional gradient by habitat, from 376 to 433 to 968 seeds m−2, but with foredune and secondary dune seed bank densities being significantly lower than the savanna seed bank density. The number of seeds germinated was significantly correlated with soil organic carbon, demonstrating for this primary successional sequence that seed density increases with stage and age. The seed bank had much lower species richness than that of the aboveground vegetation across all habitats. Among sites within a habitat type, the similarity of species germinated from the seed banks was very low, illustrating the variability of the seed bank even in similar habitat types. These results suggest that restoration of these habitats cannot rely on seed banks alone.

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