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Content available remote Small scale spatial pattern of a soil seed bank in an old-growth deciduous forest
We studied an old growth deciduous forest seed bank to examine how its potential role in regeneration is shaped by natural forest environment. Our research questions were: is the spatial pattern of seed bank influenced by local variation in elevation, soil moisture and light intensity, and what is the impact of herb layer characteristics on seed bank pattern. We recorded species composition of the herb layer and seed bank on a 2 x 40 m study plot divided into 20 quadrates, situated in a natural oak-hornbeam forest, in the Białowieża Primeval Forest, (NE Poland). Soil cores were sampled from two soil layers (0-5 cm and 5-10 cm) yielding altogether 40 samples of a total 15.9 dm[^3] and 0.159 m[^2]. Seeds were extracted from soil samples under a microscope. Ellenberg indicator values were used to characterize light (L) and moisture (F) conditions. Relative quadrate elevation was averaged for nine points. There were 6.65 x 10[^3] seeds m[^-2] in upper soil layer and 3.00 x 10[^3] seeds m[^-2] in lower soil layer. Seed bank structure constituted of patches 6 m diameter in the upper soil layer and 4 m in the lower soil layer. Aggregated pattern of the seed bank was influenced by clumped distribution of plants in the herb layer. Seed bank species richness in the upper soil layer was correlated with moisture (r = 0.485, P =0.03) and light (r = 0.526, P = 0.0172) values. Seed densities were correlated with moisture (r = 0.848 P <0.0001 upper and r = 0.491 P = 0.0278 lower soil layer) and light (r = 0.803 P <0.0001 upper and r = 0.751 P = 0.0001 lower soil layer). Seed density in upper soil layer was negatively correlated with elevation (r =.0.485 P = 0.0422). Higher seed density and species richness of the seed bank associated with better light conditions and higher moisture is probably caused by higher seed production in favourable conditions, and factors promoting seed persistence in soil. Our results indicate, that even subtle changes in light, moisture and mean relative elevation can shape seed bank spatial pattern on a fine local scale, differentiating the response of this community to small scale disturbances present in natural forests.
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