Seed banks as a source of vegetation regeneration to support the recovery of degraded rivers: a comparison of river reaches of varying condition

Jessica O'Donnell*, Kirstie A. Fryirs, Michelle R. Leishman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Anthropogenic disturbance has contributed to widespread geomorphic adjustment and the degradation of many rivers. This research compares for river reaches of varying condition, the potential for seed banks to support geomorphic river recovery through vegetation regeneration. Seven river reaches in the lower Hunter catchment of south-eastern Australia were assessed as being in poor, moderate, or good condition, based on geomorphic and ecological indicators. Seed bank composition within the channel and floodplain (determined in a seedling emergence study) was compared to standing vegetation. Seed bank potential for supporting geomorphic recovery was assessed by measuring native species richness, and the abundance of different plant growth forms, with consideration of the roles played by different growth forms in geomorphic adjustment. The exotic seed bank was considered a limiting factor for achieving ecological restoration goals, and similarly analysed. Seed bank native species richness was comparable between the reaches, and regardless of condition, early successional and pioneer herbs, sedges, grasses and rushes dominated the seed bank. The capacity for these growth forms to colonise and stabilise non-cohesive sediments and initiate biogeomorphic succession, indicates high potential for the seed banks of even highly degraded reaches to contribute to geomorphic river recovery. However, exotic propagules increasingly dominated the seed banks of moderate and poor condition reaches and reflected increasing encroachment by terrestrial exotic vegetation associated with riparian degradation. As the degree of riparian degradation increases, the resources required to control the regeneration of exotic species will similarly increase, if seed bank-based regeneration is to contribute to both geomorphic and ecological restoration goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-602
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume542
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2016

Keywords

  • Condition assessment
  • Ecosystem restoration
  • Revegetation
  • River degradation
  • Propagule bank

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