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The Recruitment Niche Predicts Plant Community Assembly Across a Hydrological Gradient Along Plowed and Undisturbed Transects in a Former Agricultural Wetland

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The Recruitment Niche Predicts Plant Community Assembly Across a Hydrological Gradient Along Plowed and Undisturbed Transects in a Former Agricultural Wetland

Jose W Valdez et al. Front Plant Sci.

Abstract

Seedling emergence in plant communities depends on the composition in the soil seed bank, in combination with species-specific responses to the environment. It is generally assumed that this juvenile transition, known as the recruitment niche, is a crucial filter that determines species' distributions and plant community assemblies. The relative importance of this filter, however, has been widely debated. Empirical descriptions of the recruitment niche are scarce, as most field studies focus on environmental effects at later life stages. In this study, we examine the importance of the recruitment niche for predicting plant communities across a hydrological gradient in a disturbed and undisturbed area in Lake Schmiechen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. We combine a seed bank experiment, measuring germination in water basins under standardized conditions and different water levels, with field observations of plant communities along a hydrological gradient in plowed and undisturbed transects in a former agricultural wetland. We find that hydrology consistently predicted plant community composition in both the germination experiment and in the field. The hydrological recruitment niches measured in the seed bank experiment correlated with the hydrological niche in both the plowed and undisturbed area, with slightly stronger correlation in the plowed area. We explain the latter by the fact that the seed bank experiment most closely resembles the plowed area, whereas succession and competitive interactions become more important in the undisturbed area. Our results support the view that the recruitment niche is an important driver of species composition, in both the plowed and undisturbed area. Recognizing the recruitment niche and the response of seeds within a seed bank to environmental gradients and anthropogenic disturbance is necessary to understand and predict future plant community composition.

Keywords: agricultural land; community assembly; flooding; germination; land use; ontogenetic niche; regeneration niche; seed bank.

Figures

FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1
Former agricultural plot (plowed and undisturbed) in Lake Schmiechen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2
Non-metric multidimensional scaling ordination for the seed bank experiment with different water levels represented as a categorical variable (convex hulls) and fitted as an environmental vector (arrow).
FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3
Non-metric multidimensional scaling ordination of species composition of (A) yearly plowed and (B) undisturbed site at the south-western edge of Lake Schmiechen in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Environmental vectors are displayed with arrows.

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