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Soil moisture and fungi affect seed survival in California grassland annual plants.

Abstract

Survival of seeds in the seed bank is important for the population dynamics of many plant species, yet the environmental factors that control seed survival at a landscape level remain poorly understood. These factors may include soil moisture, vegetation cover, soil type, and soil pathogens. Because many soil fungi respond to moisture and host species, fungi may mediate environmental drivers of seed survival. Here, I measure patterns of seed survival in California annual grassland plants across 15 species in three experiments. First, I surveyed seed survival for eight species at 18 grasslands and coastal sage scrub sites ranging across coastal and inland Santa Barbara County, California. Species differed in seed survival, and soil moisture and geographic location had the strongest influence on survival. Grasslands had higher survival than coastal sage scrub sites for some species. Second, I used a fungicide addition and exotic grass thatch removal experiment in the field to tease apart the relative impact of fungi, thatch, and their interaction in an invaded grassland. Seed survival was lower in the winter (wet season) than in the summer (dry season), but fungicide improved winter survival. Seed survival varied between species but did not depend on thatch. Third, I manipulated water and fungicide in the laboratory to directly examine the relationship between water, fungi, and survival. Seed survival declined from dry to single watered to continuously watered treatments. Fungicide slightly improved seed survival when seeds were watered once but not continually. Together, these experiments demonstrate an important role of soil moisture, potentially mediated by fungal pathogens, in driving seed survival.

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