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Buried alive: Aquatic plants survive in ‘ghost ponds’ under agricultural fields

Alderton, Emily, Sayer, Carl Derek, Davies, Rachael, Lambert, Stephen John, Axmacher, Jan Christoph
Biological conservation 2017 v.212 pp. 105-110
agri-environmental policy, agricultural land, biodiversity, biodiversity conservation, dormancy, intensive farming, macrophytes, oospores, ponds, sediments, seeds, wetlands
The widespread loss of wetlands due to agricultural intensification has been highlighted as a major threat to aquatic biodiversity. However, all is not lost as we reveal that the propagules of some aquatic species could survive burial under agricultural fields in the sediments of ‘ghost ponds’ - ponds in-filled during agricultural land consolidation. Our experiments showed at least eight aquatic macrophyte species to germinate from seeds and oospores, following 50–150years of dormancy in the sediments of ghost ponds. This represents a significant proportion of the expected macrophyte diversity for local farmland ponds, which typically support between 6 and 14 macrophyte species. The rapid (<6months) re-colonisation of resurrected ghost ponds by a diverse aquatic vegetation similarly suggests a strong seed-bank influence. Ghost ponds represent abundant, dormant time capsules for aquatic species in agricultural landscapes around the globe, affording opportunities for enhancing landscape-scale aquatic biodiversity and connectivity. While reports of biodiversity loss through agricultural intensification dominate conservation narratives, our study offers a rare positive message, demonstrating that aquatic organisms survive prolonged burial under intensively managed agricultural fields. We urge conservationists and policy makers to consider utilizing and restoring these valuable resources in biodiversity conservation schemes and in agri-environmental approaches and policies.