Resilience of invaded riparian landscapes: The potential role of soil-stored seed banks
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We investigated the potential role of soil-stored seed banks in driving vegetation recovery under varying intensities of invasion by the alien tree Eucalyptus camaldulensis along the Berg River in South Africa’s Western Cape Province. We asked: How do richness, diversity, and composition of soil-stored seed banks vary with invasion intensity? What is the difference between the seed banks and above-ground vegetation with respect to species richness, diversity, composition, and structure? To what extent do soil-stored seed banks provide reliable sources for restoring native plant communities? Through a seedling-emergence approach, we compared seedling density, richness, and diversity in plots under varying Eucalyptus cover. Seed bank characteristics were also compared with those of the above-ground vegetation. Except in terms of diversity and density, the richness and composition of native species varied significantly among invasion conditions. Despite the paucity of native tree and shrub species in the seed bank, it was more diverse than extant vegetation. Some species occurred exclusively either in the seed bank or in the above-ground vegetation. Although this ecosystem has been degraded by several agents, including Eucalyptus invasion, soil-stored seed banks still offer modest potential for driving regeneration of native plant communities, but secondary invasions need to be managed carefully. Remnant populations of native plants in the above-ground vegetation remaining after E. camaldulensis clearing provide a more promising propagule source for rapid regeneration. Further work is needed to elucidate possible effects of invasion on successional pathways following E. camaldulensis removal and the effects of hydrochory on seed bank dynamics.