Regeneration Potential of Floodplain Forests Under the Influence of Nonnative Tree Species: Soil Seed Bank Analysis in Northern Italy



Soil seed banks are the ecological memory of plant communities and might represent their regeneration potential. This study examines the soil seed bank in hardwood floodplain forests of the biosphere reserve “Valle del Ticino” (Northern Italy) to find out whether the natural forest vegetation can potentially be restored by the soil seed bank. We compared near natural forests of the phytosociological association Polygonato multiflori–Quercetum roboris with stands dominated by the nonnative tree species Robinia pseudoacacia and Prunus serotina in order to investigate whether the composition of the soil seed bank is significantly influenced by the composition of the main canopy tree species and soil properties. Soil seed bank samples were taken from 20 randomly selected plots in stands that were differentiated into four groups related to the dominant forest canopy species. The germinated plants were counted and their species determined. A total of 2,427 plants belonging to 84 species were recorded. The composition of the dominant tree species and soil parameters significantly influence the composition of the seed bank. The similarity with the standing vegetation was very low. Only 13% of the species in the soil seed bank represent the target vegetation. The low percentage of target species and the high percentage of nonnative species imply that the regeneration of near-natural forest vegetation from the soil seed bank is not feasible. Consequently, disturbances that may activate the soil seed bank should be minimized. Thus, we recommend stopping the mechanical removal of the nonnative tree species in the Ticino Park.