Soil seed-bank germination patterns in natural pastures under different mineral fertilizer treatments
Degraded native grasslands in Mediterranean areas can be improved by encouraging seedling regeneration from soil seed banks using chemical fertilization. The effect of mineral fertilizers on soil seed banks was studied in natural pastures at two locations in southern Italy: Carpino and Rignano Garganico. The aim was to determine if nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and combined nitrogen and phosphorus (NP) fertilization can promote increased soil seed density. The seed-bank size and composition were analysed over two growth cycles (2004-2006) at two periods of the year: at the early summer and at the early autumn. The plant species were classified into three functional groups: grasses, legumes and other species (all other dicots). A two-pool model (ephemeral and base pools) derived from the germination patterns was developed to quantify the dynamics of the germinated seed populations. The mean total seed number in the seed bank ranged from 2,915 to 4,782 seed m-2 with higher values in early summer than in early autumn. Mineral fertilizer applications increased the seed-bank size (by 27%, 23% and 46%, for N, P and NP, respectively) and modified the composition in both localities. The three plant functional groups showed different potentials for ephemeral and persistent seed-bank production; however, within each plant group, the proportion between the ephemeral and base pool fractions did not change with fertilizer application. These data show that mineral fertilization can have positive effects on the seed-bank size of ungrazed natural pastures, and can be used to improve degraded Mediterranean pastures.
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