1 The relationship between size and floristic composition of the seed bank and vegetation dynamics was studied between 1976 and 1996 in 0.75 ha of an abandoned Cirsietum rivularis meadow. The plot was divided into 100-m2 (10 × 10 m) quadrats and sampled 5-yearly to map the vegetation and determine the soil seed bank.
2 Densities of seeds in the soil fluctuated as succession proceeded. The initially small seed bank trebled by 15 years after abandonment, before falling, after 20 years, to approximately the same as in the initial stage.
3 The floristic richness of the seed bank decreased during succession, with the number of species falling from 38 to 25. The diversity of life forms, however, increased in later periods, with tall herbs, shrubs and trees appearing after 10 years.
4 Seed bank floristic composition is apparently both a product of the species composition of the current vegetation and a record of the long-term substitution of species. Other factors, including the structure of the vegetation, also influence the accumulation of seeds in the soil.
5 Although changes in number of species show a directional pattern, the seed bank size fluctuated in the course of succession on these fertile wet meadows.