Light controls alpine meadow community assembly during succession by affecting species recruitment from the seed bank

Miaojun Ma, Carol C. Baskin, Yunpeng Zhao, Hang An

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Some research indicates that soil seed banks can promote species coexistence through storage effects. However, the seed bank mechanism that maintains plant assembly and its role in degraded grassland restoration are still not clear. We collected seed bank samples from early, mid and late secondary successional stages of an abandoned subalpine meadow on the Tibetan Plateau, and samples from each stage were exposed to full (i.e., natural), mid, and low light treatments in the field to represent light availability at the bottom/understory (soil surface) of a plant community in the early, mid and late stages of succession, respectively. Species richness, seed density, species composition, and community weighted mean values (CWMs) of seed mass of the species whose seeds germinated in soil samples were evaluated. In response to the light treatments, species richness increased significantly with increased light only for the late successional stage, seed density increased significantly with increased light only in the early and mid successional stages, and seed mass decreased significantly with increased light only in the mid and late successional stages. Species composition differed significantly among the light treatments only in the late successional stage. For the successional series, species richness and seed mass of the species that germinated increased significantly with succession only under mid and full light treatments. Seed density decreased significantly with succession in each light treatment. Species composition differed significantly between the early- and late stage and between the mid and late stage in each light treatment. Both the abiotic (light) and biotic (seed mass) factors influence seed bank recruitment to the plant community. Regeneration of small-seeded species in the seed bank was inhibited under low light in the late successional stage. The balance of stochastic and deterministic processes along a successional gradient was determined by regeneration from the seed bank depending on light intensity change. Differences in seed response to light intensity change largely determined plant community assembly. Our findings should help in the development of effective conservation and restoration strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2782
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Natural Science Foundation of China, Grant/Award Numbers: 31922062, 32171681; Basic Research and Innovation Group Project of Gansu Province, Grant/Award Number: 22JR5RA390 Funding information

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Ecological Society of America.


  • deterministic processes
  • light
  • seed mass
  • soil seed bank
  • stochastic processes
  • subalpine meadow
  • succession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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