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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Soil seed bank responses to edge effects in temperate European forests

Gasperini, Cristina; Bollmann, Kurt; Brunet, Jorg; Cousins, Sara A. O.; Decocq, Guillaume; De Pauw, Karen; Diekmann, Martin; Govaert, Sanne; Graae, Bente J.; Hedwall, Per-Ola; Iacopetti, Giovanni; Lenoir, Jonathan; Lindmo, Sigrid; Meeussen, Camille; Orczewska, Anna; Ponette, Quentin; Plue, Jan; Sanczuk, Pieter; Spicher, Fabien; Vanneste, Thomas;
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Aim The amount of forest edges is increasing globally due to forest fragmentation and land-use changes. However, edge effects on the soil seed bank of temperate forests are still poorly understood. Here, we assessed edge effects at contrasting spatial scales across Europe and quantified the extent to which edges can preserve the seeds of forest specialist plants. Location Temperate European deciduous forests along a 2,300-km latitudinal gradient. Time period 2018-2021. Major taxa studied Vascular plants. Methods Through a greenhouse germination experiment, we studied how edge effects alter the density, diversity, composition and functionality of forest soil seed banks in 90 plots along different latitudes, elevations and forest management types. We also assessed which environmental conditions drive the seed bank responses at the forest edge versus interior and looked at the relationship between the seed bank and the herb layer species richness. Results Overall, 10,108 seedlings of 250 species emerged from the soil seed bank. Seed density and species richness of generalists (species not only associated with forests) were higher at edges compared to interiors, with a negative influence of C : N ratio and litter quality. Conversely, forest specialist species richness did not decline from the interior to the edge. Also, edges were compositionally, but not functionally, different from interiors. The correlation between the seed bank and the herb layer species richness was positive and affected by microclimate. Main conclusions Our results underpin how edge effects shape species diversity and composition of soil seed banks in ancient forests, especially increasing the proportion of generalist species and thus potentially favouring a shift in community composition. However, the presence of many forest specialists suggests that soil seed banks still play a key role in understorey species persistence and could support the resilience of our fragmented forests.


deciduous forests; edge effect; forest biodiversity; forest specialists; microclimate; plant traits; soil seed banks; understorey vegetation

Published in

Global Ecology and Biogeography
2022, Volume: 31, number: 9, pages: 1877-1893
Publisher: WILEY