Seed bank, seed dispersal and vegetation cover: Colonization along a newly-created river channel


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Question: What is the relative importance of the initial seed bank and subsequent seed dispersal for floristic composition of bank vegetation two years after creation of a newly-cut reach of a river channel?

Location: River Cole, West Midlands, United Kingdom.

Methods: We took bank and bed sediment samples from a 0.5-km reach of a new river channel cut into intact flood-plain. After river diversion, seed samples deposited on artificial turf mats placed on the river banks and flood-plain edge were taken in summer and winter 2002 and 2003. Seed rain samples from funnel traps were taken during summer 2002 and 2003. We undertook greenhouse germination trials to assess viable seed species within these samples. In summer 2004, we surveyed river bank vegetation.

Agglomerative cluster analysis was used to investigate floristic similarity between seed bank, seed rain, seed deposition samples and final bank vegetation cover. DCA was used to explore contrasts between the samples and to assess whether these reflected interpretable environmental gradients.

Results: Seed rain samples contained a small subset of species in the summer depositional samples. 38 species were found within the final vegetation, the seed bank, and at least one of the four sets of depositional samples; a further 30 species not present in the seed-bank samples were present in at least one of the four sets of depositional samples and the final vegetation. Floristic composition of the vegetation was most similar to the depositional samples from winter 2002 and 2003 and summer 2003. DCA axis 1 reflected a time sequence from seed-bank samples through depositional samples to the final vegetation.

Conclusions: Newly cut river banks were colonized rapidly. Seed remobilization and hydrochorous transport from the upstream catchment are important for colonization. Species richness was highest in samples deposited during winter when high river flows can remobilize and transport viable seeds from upstream. This process would also have enhanced the species richness of seed production along the banks during the second summer (2003).