1. When using the seedling-emergence method to analyse a soil seed bank the greenhouse conditions should match the germination requirements of the species involved. Although the seedling-emergence method is common practice in ecological studies, the germination characteristics of many species are not known, or are only partly known.
2. Before carrying out a large-scale seed-bank study in a wet dune slack, we tested the water requirements of the species in the seed bank, comparing a waterlogged soil with a moist soil. Four species germinated in significantly larger numbers in a waterlogged soil, seven species in a moist soil and 11 species showed no significant difference. When a species was present in low densities, it was often missed using the less appropriate treatment.
3. These results emphasize the need for a preliminary study before carrying out a seed-bank analysis and show the danger of using a ‘standard’ method to analyse soil samples from different habitats.