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Does Germination Success Differ with Respect to Seed Mass and Germination Season? Experimental Testing of Plant Functional Trait Responses to Grassland Management

Kahmen, S., Poschlod, P.
Annals of botany 2008 v.101 no.4 pp. 541-548
autumn, biomass, functional response, grasslands, grazing, mowing, predation, range management, recruitment, seed germination, seedlings, seeds, soil, spring, summer, vegetation cover, Germany
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Plant functional trait responses to processes such as grassland management have been analysed frequently; however, the scaling-up from individual traits to the outcomes of vegetation dynamics has seldom been tested. In this experiment, germination success was studied with respect to the relationships between grassland management (mowing and grazing), as well as abandonment, and two traits that are relevant for seedling recruitment: seed mass and germination season. On the basis of discussions in the literature and indirect trait analyses in our previous studies, the following hypotheses are proposed: (1) with respect to seed mass, mowing and grazing favour the germination of small seeds, whereas after abandonment the germination success of larger seeds is higher; and (2) with respect to germination season, mowing and grazing favour autumn-germinating seeds, whereas succession promotes spring-germinating seeds. METHODS: The germination experiment took place in a semi-natural, dry grassland in north-east Germany. Seeds of eight herbaceous species that differ with respect to seed mass and germination season were sown in mown, grazed and abandoned plots. Germination success was documented during the following year. KEY RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Contrary to the hypothesis, germination of small seeds was not promoted by mowing or grazing and they germinated relatively more often than expected in the abandoned plots. A relationship between abandonment and gaps of bare soil below the vegetation cover that favour germination of small seeds was likely, but could not be proved statistically. It is possible that the small seeds suffered less from predation. Mowing favoured autumn germination, which could be explained by the removal of biomass in late summer. Contrary to our expectation, there was relatively more spring germination after grazing than after mowing, yet vegetation height was smallest in spring. Generally, germination season was found to be related to the temporal occurrence of favourable light conditions.