The dispersal and deposition of hydrochorous plant seeds in drainage ditches


Hester Soomers, Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80115, NL-3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands.


1. Surface water is an important dispersal vector for wetland plant species. However, most previous studies on hydrochory (i.e. water dispersal) have focused on ecosystems with relatively rapid water flow. Therefore, there is a need to study such dispersal in slow-flowing or stagnant waterbodies, such as drainage ditches, which might act as dispersal corridors between habitat patches.

2. To gain insight into the mechanisms by which seeds are transported in drainage ditches, the effect of the velocity of wind and water on the rate of transport of floating seeds of three wetland species (Carex pseudocyperus L., Iris pseudacorus L. and Sparganium erectum L.) was investigated. Furthermore, in release and retrace experiments with painted C. pseudocyperus seeds, a number of factors potentially determining the probability of seed deposition were investigated.

3. Net wind speed was found to be the main factor determining the rate at which seeds are transported in drainage ditches. No relation between water flow at middepth in the ditches and seed transport was found. Wind speed and flow at the water surface were positively related. The effect of wind speed on the rate of transport of floating seeds was greater for S. erectum seeds, because a greater ratio of their volume protrudes from the water, than for C. pseudocyperus and I. pseudacorus seeds.

4. The principal factors that determine seed deposition were aquatic plant cover, ditch slope and indentations in the ditch bank. Seeds changed direction if the wind direction changed, or if there was a bend in the ditch. The final pattern of deposition was related to mean net wind speed. Mean transport distance after 2 days varied between 34 and 451 m.

5. Unlike in rivers, seed transport in ditches was determined by wind speed and direction, enabling multidirectional seed dispersal. We conclude that in slow-flowing waters, wind is a more important driver for hydrochorous seed transport than the flow of water. This sheds a new light on hydrochory and has important consequences for the management of otherwise fragmented wetland remnants.