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Rainfall in growing season determines the size of an annual-dominated soil seed bank in a desert ecosystem
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  • Ya-Fei Shi,
  • Zengru Wang,
  • Bing-Xin Xu,
  • Jian-Qiang Huo,
  • Rui Hu,
  • Yang Zhao,
  • Zhi-Shan Zhang
Ya-Fei Shi
Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Zengru Wang
Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources
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Bing-Xin Xu
Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Jian-Qiang Huo
Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Rui Hu
Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Yang Zhao
Chinese Acad Sci
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Zhi-Shan Zhang
Chinese Acad Sci
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Abstract

Soil seed banks may offer great potential for restoring and maintaining desert ecosystems that have been degraded by climate change and anthropogenic disturbance. However, few studies have explored the annual dynamics in the composition and relative abundance of these soil seed banks. We conducted a long-term observational study to assess the effects of environmental factors (meteorology and microtopography) and aboveground vegetation on the soil seed bank of the Tengger Desert, China. The desert seed bank was dominated by annual herbs. We found that more rainfall in the growing season increased the number of seeds in the soil seed bank, and that quadrats at relatively higher elevations had fewer seeds. The species composition had more similarity in the seed bank than in the aboveground vegetation, though the seed bank and aboveground vegetation did change synchronously due to the rapid propagation of annuals. Together, our findings suggest that the combined effects of environmental factors and plant life forms determine the species composition and size of soil seed banks in deserts. Thus, if degraded desert ecosystems are left to regenerate naturally, the lack of shrub and perennial herb seeds could crucially limit their restoration. Human intervention and management may have to be applied to enhance the seed abundance of longer-lived lifeforms in degraded deserts.