Soil seed banks in four 22-year-old plantations in South China: implications for restoration
To better understand the potentials of the soil seed banks in facilitating succession towards a more
natural forest of native tree species, we quantified the size and composition of the soil seed banks inestablished plantations in South China. The seed banks were from four typical 22-year-old plantations, i.e., legume, mixed-conifer, mixed-native, and Eucalyptus overstory species. Species diversity in the seed banks was low, and the vegetation species differed from those found in the seed bank in each plantation. A total of 1211 seedlings belonging to eight species emerged in a seedling germination assay, among which Cyrtococcumpatens was most abundant. All species detected were shrubs and herbs, and no viable indigenous tree seeds were found in soil samples. Size and species composition of the seed banks might be related to the overstory species compositions of the established plantations. The seed bank density in soils was highest in the mixed-conifer plantation followed by Eucalyptus, mixed-native, and legume plantations. Species richness among the seed banks of plantations was ranked as follows: Eucalyptus > mixed-conifer > mixed-native = legume. The results indicated that the soil seed banks of the current plantations are ineffective in regenerating the former communities after human disturbances. Particularly, the absence of indigenous tree species seeds in the seed banks would limit regeneration and probably contribute to arrested succession at the pioneer community stage. It would appear from these data that the soil seed banks under the current plantations should not be considered as a useful tool leading the succession to more natural stages. Introduction of target indigenous species by artificial seeding or seedling planting should be considered to accelerate forest regeneration.