The soil seedbank of a lowland conifer forest: The impacts of clear-fell management and implications for heathland restoration

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Understanding the composition and dynamics of soil seedbanks beneath mature conifer plantations is important for managing biodiversity in rotational forestry systems and in the restoration of former communities following the removal of tree crops. We examined the role of the buried seedbank in vegetation development after clear-felling of stands within coniferous plantation forest in eastern England. The buried seedbank of 29 mature stands planted in the early to mid 20th century on lowland heathland and marginal arable was determined by germination of seeds from soil cores (30 bulked cores per stand).

Seedbank density was highly variable, with a mean of 3950 (S.D. ± 2400) seeds m-2. Ninety-eight species germinated, of which 37 were present in the surface vegetation of the mature stands; these 37 species had a higher density of seeds than the 61 species absent from the surface vegetation. Of those 61 species, 21 were recorded in the surface vegetation of recently replanted stands, suggesting that the seedbank may increase the plant diversity of replanted stands following clear-felling. The seedbank of mature stands was dominated by Urtica dioica and Holcus lanatus. Comparison of seeds in the top 20 cm of soil between four paired mature and replanted stands showed felling and cultivation prior to replanting had little effect on either the density of the buried seedbank or the vertical seed density profile.

Twenty-nine of the species recorded in the buried seedbank of mature stands were characteristic of heathland assemblages of the region, but were present at low densities. Notably, a number of perennial grass species characteristic of heathland were absent, while Calluna vulgaris occurred in the seedbank of few stands and then at low density. The potential for grass-heath restoration following clear-felling of first rotation conifer stands investigated in this study is likely to be low.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-289
Number of pages10
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2006


  • Clear-felling
  • Temporal dispersal
  • Breckland
  • Heath reversion
  • Seedbank

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