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Natural seed banks are detrimental to biodiversity, according to new study

Natural seed banks are detrimental to biodiversity according to new study
Some plant species can store their seeds for several decades before it is time for them to grow and establish. Credit: Jan Plue

A new study from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences has shown that a common method of plants preserving seeds in "seed banks"—which involves storing them in soil until more favorable conditions for their survival arrive—is unlikely to save flora during ongoing global heating.

Producing is an important way for plants to spread to new places. Being stored in soil allows seeds to survive temporary environmental changes or persist in an area following a deterioration of local conditions.

Researchers investigated how seed storing might help plants survive our . They collected data from over 40 published studies, extracting information regarding which species had seeds present in soil, and which ones were above ground in more than 2500 locations across nine countries.

As average European temperatures have increased by almost one degree Celsius, it was expected that the seeds stored in soil would reflect past, cooler conditions. Alistair Auffret, one of the study's researchers, noted, "We were surprised that the plants featuring seed banks mainly consisted of species better suited to warm climates."

Natural seed banks are detrimental to biodiversity according to new study
Mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica is a species with a northerly distribution in Europe, and whose seeds are not stored in the soil. Credit: Alistair Auffret

The strategy to store seeds in the is more common in species that have a warmer, more southernly distribution in Europe. This means that instead of simply allowing species to persist as the climate warms, the species with seed banks are ones already suited to warmer temperatures. However, this is not necessarily a positive finding for .

"These 'warm' species are mostly weed-like generalists that can contribute to plant communities becoming more homogenous," continues Alistair. The results are also bad news for plants that do not enjoy higher temperatures. Alistair concluded "We now know that more northerly species lack the valuable strategy to survive as the warming continues."

More information: Alistair G. Auffret et al, More warm‐adapted species in soil seed banks than in herb layer plant communities across Europe, Journal of Ecology (2023). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.14074

Journal information: Journal of Ecology

Citation: Natural seed banks are detrimental to biodiversity, according to new study (2023, February 22) retrieved 6 June 2023 from
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