Assessing the impact of plant invasions on soil seed bank communities: use of univariate and multivariate statistical approaches


  • Co-ordinating editor: L. Turnbull

*Corresponding author; Fax +35 317 161 102; E-mail


Questions: Are soil seed banks affected by invasions of alien plants? How can we rigorously assess alterations in seed bank communities associated with invasive species and account for the high spatial variability of seed bank data? How do multivariate approaches compare with more traditional approaches based on analysis of variance?

Location: Three riparian sites, Ireland.

Methods: A protocol based on a combination of multivariate techniques was used to characterize soil seed bank communities associated with the herbaceous invasive species Heracleum mantegazzianum in May and October. Permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA) was used to test the effects of the factors “invasion”, “site”, “plot” and “depth” on the soil seed bank, while multivariate analysis of dispersion (PERMDISP) provided a measure of the variability of seed bank data at different spatial scales. Similarity percentages analysis (SIMPER) was used to identify the species that contributed most to the differences between invaded and uninvaded communities. A comparison between the results of PERMANOVA and ANOVA analyses was also made.

Results: The composition of seed bank communities invaded by H. mantegazzianum differed significantly from that of uninvaded seed banks. Invaded seed banks were less diverse and had reduced abundance, and were dominated by only a few species, such as Urtica dioica and Juncus effusus. Such patterns were recorded at each of three depth categories, indicating that invasive plants can affect both the transient and the more persistent component of the soil seed bank. Seed bank variability was significantly higher within uninvaded areas, supporting the notion that invasions tend to lead to more homogeneous communities.

Conclusion: The analytical protocol used in this study was effective in quantifying the effect of plant invasions, at different spatial scales, providing a statistically robust analysis of alterations in soil seed bank communities. Compared to ANOVA, this protocol provided more biological information and was more appropriate for analysis of the data. This approach is therefore recommended in soil seed bank and invasion ecological studies.