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Individual study: Factors affecting seedling recruitment of fen meadow plant species in a reference and a restoration site in Devon, England

Published source details

Isselstein J., Tallowin J. & Smith R. (2002) Factors affecting seed germination and seedling establishment of fen-meadow species. Restoration Ecology, 10, 173-184


In the UK, lowland fen meadows are habitats of high nature conservation value; many have been lost due to drainage and agricultural intensification. The availability of seeds and provision of "safe sites" for seedling recruitment appear to be essential for the establishment of fen-meadow species in restoration sites. Some abiotic and biotic factors limiting seedling emergence and establishment of selected fen-meadow species were identified in a field experiment.

Study area: The two study sites were situated in Devon, southwest England. One was an agriculturally unimproved Cirsio-Molinietum fen meadow and the restoration site, an agriculturally improved, species-poor Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus– soft rush Juncus effusus rush pasture. Neither site had received any artificial drainage during the previous 40 years or fertilizers added in the case of the fen meadow. The restoration site had received no inorganic fertilizer during the previous 13 years and no organic manure for at least 5 years.

Experimental design: In May (no year given in original paper), 50 seeds of oval sedge Carex ovalis, meadow thistle Cirsium dissectum, purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea, devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis, and H.lanatus were sown in 8 plots (2.9 × 3.3 m). A split-plot design was used (each plot split into 32 subplots and 5 'microplots' per subplot; one species sown per microplot). The following treatments were applied (four replicates of each) at both sites: irrigation or no irrigation, presence or removal of the existing vegetation canopy, and presence or absence of soil disturbance.

Monitoring: Numbers of seedlings present in each microplot were recorded each month from June to October. Light, humidity, and topsoil temperature measurements were taken during July and August. The water content of the topsoil was monitored during August to October.

Average emergence for all species, except H.lanatus, was higher in the fen meadow (25%) compared with the rush pasture (14%). Soil disturbance was the major factor that increased germination compared with the other treatments at both sites. Removal of the vegetation canopy improved germination only for S. pratensis.

Overall, seedling survival of all species (except C. dissectum) was at least 20% higher at the fen meadow than on the rush pasture. Canopy presence was the major factor that reduced seedling survival; irrigation and soil disturbance were of minor importance on both sites. Few seedlings survived under the rush pasture canopy.

The fen-meadow was less susceptible to drought, had more light, and provided better sites for seed germination and seedling establishment. Good sites for seedling recruitment were lacking in the rush pasture.

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