1. This paper explores soil seed bank composition and its contribution to the vegetation dynamics of a hydrologically variable desert floodplain in central Australia: the Cooper Creek floodplain. We investigated patterns in soil seed bank composition both temporally, in response to flooding (and drying), and spatially, with relation to flood frequency. Correlations between extant vegetation and soil seed bank composition are explored with respect to flooding.
2. A large and diverse germinable soil seed bank was detected comprising predominantly annual monocot and annual forb species. Soil seed bank composition did not change significantly in response to a major flood event but some spatial patterns were detected along a broad flood frequency gradient. Soil seed bank samples from frequently flooded sites had higher total germinable seed abundance and a greater abundance of annual monocots than less frequently flooded sites. In contrast, germinable seeds of perennial species belonging to the Poaceae family were most abundant in soil seed bank samples from rarely flooded sites.
3. Similarity between the composition of the soil seed bank and extant vegetation increased following flooding and was greatest in more frequently flooded areas of the floodplain, reflecting the establishment of annual species. The results indicate that persistent soil seed banks enable vegetation in this arid floodplain to respond to unpredictable patterns of flooding and drying.