Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-t5pn6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-15T18:43:45.466Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Differential effects of reduced water potential on the germination of floodplain grassland species indicative of wet and dry habitats

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2014

Kristin Ludewig*
Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Research Centre for Biosystems, Land Use and Nutrition (IFZ), Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany
Bianka Zelle
Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Research Centre for Biosystems, Land Use and Nutrition (IFZ), Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany
R. Lutz Eckstein
Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Research Centre for Biosystems, Land Use and Nutrition (IFZ), Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany
Eva Mosner
Bundesanstalt für Gewässerkunde (BfG), 56068Koblenz, Germany
Annette Otte
Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Research Centre for Biosystems, Land Use and Nutrition (IFZ), Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany
Tobias W. Donath
Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Research Centre for Biosystems, Land Use and Nutrition (IFZ), Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany


Floodplain meadow ecosystems are characterized by high water level fluctuations and highly variable soil water potentials. Additionally, climate change scenarios indicate an increasing risk for summer drought along the northern Upper Rhine and the Middle Elbe River, Germany. While adult plants often persist even after strong changes in water availability, early life phases, such as seed germination and seedling establishment, might be more vulnerable. Therefore we tested whether reduced soil water potentials will affect the germination of meadow species and whether the response varies between (1) forbs indicative of wet and dry habitats and (2) seeds originating from sites along the rivers Elbe and Rhine. We exposed seeds of 20 floodplain meadow species with different moisture requirements from five plant families to a water potential gradient ranging from 0 to − 1.5 MPa. While across species germination percentage and synchrony decreased, germination time increased at reduced water potentials. Germination of the species indicative of dry habitats decreased more strongly, was slower and less synchronous at reduced water potentials than that of species indicative of wet habitats. Seeds from sites along the rivers Elbe and Rhine did not differ in their germination characteristics. We propose that species of wet sites follow an all-or-nothing-strategy with fast and synchronous germination to maximize competitive advantages, betting on a high probability of moist conditions for establishment (optimists). In contrast, species from dry sites appear to follow a bet-hedging strategy with a moisture-sensing mechanism for unsuitable conditions (pessimists), resulting in a slower and less synchronous germination.

Research Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adler, P.B. and HilleRisLambers, J. (2008) The influence of climate and species composition on the population dynamics of ten prairie forbs. Ecology 89, 30493060.Google Scholar
Akhalkatsi, M. and Lösch, R. (2001) Changes in water relations, solute leakage and growth characters during seed germination and seedling development in Trigonella coerulea (Fabaceae). Journal of Applied Botany 75, 144151.Google Scholar
Bakker, J.P. and de Vries, Y. (1992) Germination and early establishment of lower salt-marsh species in grazed and mown salt marsh. Journal of Vegetation Science 3, 247252.Google Scholar
Baskin, C.C. and Baskin, J.M. (2001) Seeds – ecology, biogeography, and evolution of dormancy and germination. San Diego, Academic Press.Google Scholar
Beier, C., Beierkuhnlein, C., Wohlgemuth, T., Penuelas, J., Emmett, B., Korner, C., de Boeck, H., Christensen, J.H., Leuzinger, S., Janssens, I.A. and Hansen, K. (2012) Precipitation manipulation experiments – challenges and recommendations for the future. Ecology Letters 15, 899911.Google Scholar
Brunotte, E., Dister, E., Günther-Diringer, D., Koenzen, U. and Mehl, D. (2009) Flussauen in Deutschland – Erfassung und Bewertung des Auenzustandes. Bundesamt für Naturschutz (BFN), Bonn – Bad Godesberg.Google Scholar
Burkart, M. (2001) River corridor plants (Stromtalpflanzen) in Central European lowland: a review of a poorly understood plant distribution pattern. Global Ecology and Biogeography 10, 449468.Google Scholar
Burmeier, S., Donath, T.W., Otte, A. and Eckstein, R.L. (2010) Rapid burial has differential effects on germination and emergence of small- and large-seeded herbaceous plant species. Seed Science Research 20, 189200.Google Scholar
Cochrane, A., Daws, M.I. and Hay, F.R. (2011) Seed-based approach for identifying flora at risk from climate warming. Austral Ecology 36, 923935.Google Scholar
Conradt, T., Koch, H., Hattermann, F.F. and Wechsung, F. (2012) Spatially differentiated management-revised discharge scenarios for an integrated analysis of multi-realisation climate and land use scenarios for the Elbe River basin. Regional Environmental Change 12, 633648.Google Scholar
Daws, M.I., Crabtree, L.M., Dalling, J.W., Mullins, C.E. and Burslem, D.F.R.P. (2008) Germination responses to water potential in neotropical pioneers suggest large-seeded species take more risks. Annals of Botany 102, 945951.Google Scholar
Donath, T.W., Hölzel, N. and Otte, A. (2003) The impact of site conditions and seed dispersal on restoration success in alluvial meadows. Applied Vegetation Science 6, 1322.Google Scholar
Donath, T.W., Bissels, S., Hölzel, N. and Otte, A. (2007) Large scale application of diaspore transfer with plant material in restoration practice – impact of seed and microsite limitation. Biological Conservation 138, 224234.Google Scholar
Edwards, G.R., Clark, H. and Newton, P.C.D. (2001) The effects of elevated CO2 on seed production and seedling recruitment in a sheep-grazed pasture. Oecologia 127, 383394.Google Scholar
Ellenberg, H., Weber, H.E., Düll, R., Wirth, V., Werner, W. and Paulißen, D. (1992) Zeigerwerte von Pflanzen in Mitteleuropa. Scripta Geobotanica 18, 1248.Google Scholar
Evans, C.E. and Etherington, J.R. (1990) The effect of soil water potential on seed germination of some British plants. New Phytologist 115, 539548.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fenner, M. and Thompson, K. (2005) The ecology of seeds. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Fyfield, T.P. and Gregory, P.J. (1989) Effects of temperature and water potential on germination, radicle elongation and emergence of mungbean. Journal of Experimental Botany 40, 667674.Google Scholar
Geissler, K. and Gzik, A. (2008) The impact of flooding and drought on seeds of Cnidium dubium, Gratiola officinalis, and Juncus atratus, three endangered perennial river corridor plants of Central European lowlands. Aquatic Botany 89, 283291.Google Scholar
Görgen, K., Beersma, J., Brahmer, G., Buiteveld, H., Carambia, M., de Keizer, O., Krahe, P., Nilson, E., Lammersen, R., Perrin, C. and Volken, D. (2010) Assessment of climate change impacts on discharge in the Rhine Basin: Results of the RheinBlick2050 Project, Lelystad. CHR-report, Commission for the Hydrology of the Rhine Basin (CHR).Google Scholar
Grubb, P.J. (1977) The maintenance of species-richness in plant communities: The importance of the regeneration niche. Biological Reviews 52, 107145.Google Scholar
Hölzel, N. and Otte, A. (2001) The impact of flooding regime on the soil seed bank of flood-meadows. Journal of Vegetation Science 12, 209218.Google Scholar
Hölzel, N. and Otte, A. (2004) Ecological significance of seed germination characteristics in flood-meadow species. Flora 199, 1224.Google Scholar
Hudson, J.M.G., Henry, G.H.R. and Cornwell, W.K. (2011) Taller and larger: shifts in Arctic tundra leaf traits after 16 years of experimental warming. Global Change Biology 17, 10131021.Google Scholar
Jacob, D., Göttel, H., Kotlarski, S., Lorenz, P. and Sieck, K. (2008) Klimaauswirkungen und Anpassung in Deutschland – Phase 1: Erstellung regionaler Klimaszenarien für Deutschland. 08/11, UBA – Umwelt Bundesamt, Dessau-Roßlau.Google Scholar
Jensen, K. and Gutekunst, K. (2003) Effects of litter on establishment of grassland plant species: the role of seed size and successional status. Basic and Applied Ecology 4, 579587.Google Scholar
Jensen, K., Reisdorff, C., Pfeiffer, E.M., v. Oheimb, G., Schmidt, K., Schmidt, S., Schrautzer, J., Meyer-Grünefeldt, M. and Härdtle, W. (2011) Klimabedingte Änderungen in terrestrischen und semi-terrestrischen Ökosystemen. pp. 143176 in Storch, H.; Claussen, M. (Eds) Klimabericht für die Metropolregion. Hamburg, Springer.Google Scholar
Jentsch, A., Kreyling, J., Elmer, M., Gellesch, E., Glaser, B., Grant, K., Hein, R., Lara, M., Mirzae, H., Nadler, S.E., Nagy, L., Otieno, D., Pritsch, K., Rascher, U., Schadler, M., Schloter, M., Singh, B.K., Stadler, J., Walter, J., Wellstein, C., Wollecke, J. and Beierkuhnlein, C. (2011) Climate extremes initiate ecosystem-regulating functions while maintaining productivity. Journal of Ecology 99, 689702.Google Scholar
Jones, H.G. (1992) Plants and microclimate: A quantitative approach to environmental plant physiology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Jurado, E. and Westoby, M. (1992) Germination biology of selected central Australian plants. Australian Journal of Ecology 17, 341348.Google Scholar
Kitajima, K. and Fenner, M. (2000) Ecology of seedling regeneration. pp. 331–359 in Fenner, M. (Ed.) Seeds – the ecology of regeneration in plant communities. Wallingford, CABI Publishing.Google Scholar
Klanderud, K. and Totland, O. (2005) Simulated climate change altered dominance hierarchies and diversity of an alpine biodiversity hotspot. Ecology 86, 20472054.Google Scholar
Leyer, I. (2005) Predicting plant species' responses to river regulation: the role of water level fluctuations. Journal of Applied Ecology 42, 239250.Google Scholar
Leyer, I. and Pross, S. (2009) Do seed and germination traits determine plant distribution patterns in riparian landscapes? Basic and Applied Ecology 10, 113121.Google Scholar
Loydi, A., Eckstein, R.L., Otte, A. and Donath, T.W. (2013) Effects of litter on seedling establishment in natural and semi-natural grasslands: a meta-analysis. Journal of Ecology 101, 454464.Google Scholar
Olff, H., Pegtel, D., Vangroenendael, J. and Bakker, J. (1994) Germination strategies during grassland succession. Journal of Ecology 82, 6977.Google Scholar
Ooi, M.K.J. (2012) Seed bank persistence and climate change. Seed Science Research 22 (suppl. S1), S53S60.Google Scholar
Parsons, R.F. (2012) Incidence and ecology of very fast germination. Seed Science Research 22, 161167.Google Scholar
Qi, M.Q. and Redmann, R.E. (1993) Seed germination and seedling survival of C3 and C4 grasses under water stress. Journal of Arid Environments 24, 277285.Google Scholar
Ranal, M.A. and de Santana, D.G. (2006) How and why to measure the germination process? Revista Brasileira de Botânica 29, 111.Google Scholar
Ranal, M.A., de Santana, D.G., Ferreira, W.R. and Mendes-Rodrigues, C. (2009) Calculating germination measurements and organizing spreadsheets. Revista Brasileira de Botânica 32, 849855.Google Scholar
Rasse, D.P., Peresta, G. and Drake, B.G. (2005) Seventeen years of elevated CO2 exposure in a Chesapeake Bay Wetland: sustained but contrasting responses of plant growth and CO2 uptake. Global Change Biology 11, 369377.Google Scholar
Romo, J.T., Grilz, P.L., Bubar, C.J. and Young, J.A. (1991) Influences of temperature and water stress on germination of plains rough fescue. Journal of Range Management 44, 7581.Google Scholar
Schmiede, R., Otte, A. and Donath, T.W. (2012) Enhancing plant biodiversity in species-poor grassland through plant material transfer – the impact of sward disturbance. Applied Vegetation Science 15, 290298.Google Scholar
Springer, T.L. (2005) Germination and early seedling growth of chaffy-seeded grasses at negative water potentials. Crop Science 45, 20752080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Swagel, E.N., Bernhard, A.V.H. and Ellmore, G.S. (1997) Substrate water potential constraints on germination of the st>r fig Ficus aurea (Moraceae). American Journal of Botany 84, 716722.Google Scholar
Thuiller, W., Lavorel, S., Araújo, M.B., Sykes, M.T. and Prentice, I.C. (2005) Climate change threats to plant diversity in Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 102, 82458250.Google Scholar
Tockner, K. and Stanford, J.A. (2002) Riverine flood plains: present state and future trends. Environmental Conservation 29, 308330.Google Scholar
Toogood, S., Joyce, C. and Waite, S. (2008) Response of floodplain grassland plant communities to altered water regimes. Plant Ecology 197, 285298.Google Scholar
van Eck, W., Lenssen, J., van de Steeg, H., Blom, C. and de Kroon, H. (2006) Seasonal dependent effects of flooding on plant species survival and zonation: a comparative study of 10 terrestrial grassland species. Hydrobiologia 565, 5969.Google Scholar
Walck, J.L., Hidayati, S.N., Dixon, K.W., Thompson, K. and Poschlod, P. (2011) Climate change and plant regeneration from seed. Global Change Biology 17, 21452161.Google Scholar
Weisshuhn, K., Auge, H. and Prati, D. (2011) Geographic variation in the response to drought in nine grassland species. Basic and Applied Ecology 12, 2128.Google Scholar
Wesche, K., Krause, B., Culmsee, H. and Leuschner, C. (2012) Fifty years of change in Central European grassland vegetation: Large losses in species richness and animal-pollinated plants. Biological Conservation 150, 7685.Google Scholar
Wisskirchen, R. and Haeupler, H. (1998) Standardliste der Farn- und Blütenpflanzen Deutschlands. Stuttgart, Ulmer.Google Scholar
Yahdjian, L. and Sala, O.E. (2002) A rainout shelter design for intercepting different amounts of rainfall. Oecologia 133, 95101.Google Scholar