Seedling emergence, growth, and allocation of Oriental bittersweet: effects of seed input, seed bank, and forest floor litter

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Forest Ecology and Management


The establishment of invasive plant populations is controlled by seed input, survival in the soil seed bank, and effects of soil surface disturbance on emergence, growth, and survival. We studied the invasive vine Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb. (Oriental bittersweet) to determine if seedlings in forest understory germinate from the seed bank or from seed rain. We also conducted a greenhouse experiment to investigate the role of leaf litter mass and physical texture on seedling survival, growth, and allocation. In the understory of an invaded mixed hardwood forest, we measured seed input, seedling emergence with seed rain, and seedling emergence without seed rain. Mean seed rain was 168 seeds m-2: mean seedling emergence was 107 m-2, and there was a strong correlation between seed rain and seedling emergence. The ratio of seedlings to seed input (0.61) was close to the seed viability (0.66) leaving very few seeds to enter the seed bank. Seed bank germination under field conditions was low (1 seedling m-2). Soil cores were incubated in a greenhouse to determine seed bank viability, and germination from these soil cores did not occur. To determine how litter affects seedling establishment and growth, we measured seedling emergence and biomass allocation in a greenhouse experiment. Seeds were placed below intact and fragmented deciduous leaf litter in amounts ranging from zero to the equivalent of 16 Mg ha-1. Seedling emergence was not affected by fragmented litter, but decreased to -1. Increasing litter resulted in greater allocation to hypocotyl and less to cotyledon and radicle, and this effect was greater in intact litter. C. orbiculatus seedlings achieve emergence through forest floor litter through plasticity in allocation to hypocotyl growth. The low survival of C. orbiculatus in the seed bank suggests that eradication of seedling advance regeneration and adult plants prior to seed rain may be an effective control strategy. However, the intact forest floor litter of an undisturbed forest will not prevent seedling establishment.

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