Premise of the study: Seed longevity and persistence in soil seed banks may be especially important for population persistence in ecosystems where opportunities for seedling establishment and disturbance are unpredictable. The fire regime, an important driver of population dynamics in sagebrush steppe ecosystems, has been altered by exotic annual grass invasion. Soil seed banks may play an active role in postfire recovery of the foundation shrub Artemisia tridentata, yet conditions under which seeds persist are largely unknown. Methods: We investigated seed longevity of two Artemisia tridentata subspecies in situ by retrieving seed bags that were placed at varying depths over a 2 yr period. We also sampled naturally dispersed seeds in litter and soil immediately after seed dispersal and before flowering in subsequent seasons to estimate seed persistence. Key results: After 24 mo, seeds buried at least 3 cm below the soil surface retained 30–40% viability whereas viability of seeds on the surface and under litter declined to 0 and < 11%, respectively. The density of naturally dispersed seeds in the seed bank was highly heterogeneous both spatially and temporally, and attrition varied significantly by region. Conclusions: Our study suggests that Artemisia tridentata has the potential to form a short-term soil seed bank that persists longer than has been commonly assumed, and that burial is necessary for seed longevity. Use of seeding techniques that promote burial of some seeds to aid in formation of a soil seed bank may increase restoration potential.
Additional publication details
Burial increases seed longevity of two Artemisia tridentata (Asteraceae) subspecies