The role of the seed bank in recovery of temperate heath and blanket bog following wildfires

Ruth Kelly, Emma Boston, William Montgomery, Neil Reid

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Questions - Are the germinable seed banks of upland heath and blanket bog reduced following wildfires? Are some species at particular risk? Do the impacts of wildfires on seed banks differ between heathlands and blanket bog?

Location - Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.

Methods - Vegetation surveys and seed bank sampling were conducted in 2012 at burned and unburned areas within six upland sites where large wildfires had occurred during spring 2011. Differences in seedling abundance, species richness and Jaccard similarity indices between burned and unburned areas were compared using GLMMs. Differences in the community composition were examined using pRDA.

Results - In total, 24 of the 51 species in the vegetation were detected in the germinable seed bank. Species richness and the abundance of seedlings other than Calluna vulgaris were lower in areas where wildfires had occurred. Species composition of both germinable seed banks and vegetation differed between burned and unburned areas within sites; with negative associations between burned areas and some key indicator species including Drosera rotundifolia, Eriophorum vaginatum, Empetrum nigrum, Narthecium ossifragum and Trichophorum germanicum. We did not find any evidence of significant interactions between burning and habitat, suggesting that wildfires had similar impacts on each species regardless of the habitat in which they occurred.

Conclusions - This study differs from other UK studies in that it examines impacts of wildfires at sites that have not been previously intensively managed by burning. In particular, we highlight potential impacts on N. ossifragum and D. rotundifolia, which are key components of the upland flora and, to our knowledge, were not present in previous UK studies.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Vegetation Science
Early online date18 Apr 2016
Publication statusEarly online date - 18 Apr 2016


  • Burning
  • Germination
  • Mire
  • Moorland
  • Peatlands
  • RDA
  • Recovery
  • Seed bank
  • Upland


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