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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

More warm-adapted species in soil seed banks than in herb layer plant communities across Europe

Auffret, Alistair G.; Vangansbeke, Pieter; De Frenne, Pieter; Auestad, Inger; Basto, Sofia; Grandin, Ulf; Jacquemyn, Hans; Jakobsson, Anna; Kalamees, Rein; Koch, Marcus A.; Marrs, Rob; Marteinsdottir, Bryndis; Wagner, Markus; Bekker, Renee M.; Bruun, Hans Henrik; Decocq, Guillaume; Hermy, Martin; Jankowska-Blaszczuk, Malgorzata; Milberg, Per; Maren, Inger E.; Pakeman, Robin J.; Phoenix, Gareth K.; Thompson, Ken; Van Calster, Hans; Vandvik, Vigdis; Plue, Jan
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Responses to climate change have often been found to lag behind the rate of warming that has occurred. In addition to dispersal limitation potentially restricting spread at leading range margins, the persistence of species in new and unsuitable conditions is thought to be responsible for apparent time-lags. Soil seed banks can allow plant communities to temporarily buffer unsuitable environmental conditions, but their potential to slow responses to long-term climate change is largely unknown. As local forest cover can also buffer the effects of a warming climate, it is important to understand how seed banks might interact with land cover to mediate community responses to climate change. We first related species-level seed bank persistence and distribution-derived climatic niches for 840 plant species. We then used a database of plant community data from grasslands, forests and intermediate successional habitats from across Europe to investigate relationships between seed banks and their corresponding herb layers in 2763 plots in the context of climate and land cover. We found that species from warmer climates and with broader distributions are more likely to have a higher seed bank persistence, resulting in seed banks that are composed of species with warmer and broader climatic distributions than their corresponding herb layers. This was consistent across our climatic extent, with larger differences (seed banks from even warmer climates relative to vegetation) found in grasslands. Synthesis. Seed banks have been shown to buffer plant communities through periods of environmental variability, and in a period of climate change might be expected to contain species reflecting past, cooler conditions. Here, we show that persistent seed banks often contain species with relatively warm climatic niches and those with wide climatic ranges. Although these patterns may not be primarily driven by species' climatic adaptations, the prominence of such species in seed banks might still facilitate climate-driven community shifts. Additionally, seed banks may be related to ongoing trends regarding the spread of widespread generalist species into natural habitats, while cool-associated species may be at risk from both short- and long-term climatic variability and change.


climate change; climatic debt; dispersal; plants; seed longevity; seedbank; thermophilisation

Published in

Journal of Ecology
2023, Volume: 111, number: 5, pages: 1009-1020
Publisher: WILEY