Water level drawdown induces a legacy effect on the seed bank and retains sediment chemistry in a eutrophic clay wetland

Bouma, Kerstin; Bakker, Elisabeth S.; Wilborts, Marleen; Robroek, Bjorn J.M.; Lamers, Leon L.; Cornelissen, Perry; van Eerden, Mennobart R.; Temmink, Ralph J.M.


The lack of extreme water level fluctuations in managed, non-peat forming wetland ecosystems can result in decreased productivity through the loss of heterogeneity of these ecosystems. Stochastic disruption, such as a water level drawdown, can effectively reverse this effect and return the wetland to a more productive state, associated with higher biodiversity through new vegetation development. Yet, aside from the effect on vegetation dynamics, little is known about longer-term effects (30 years) of a water level drawdown, hereafter referred to as legacy effects, and how this may impact future water level drawdowns. Here, we aim to unravel the legacy effects of a water level drawdown, stand alone and along a water level gradient, on seed bank properties and nutrient availability in a eutrophic clay wetland. To identify these, we studied the hydrologically managed nature reserve Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands. Here, one section was subjected to a multi-year water level drawdown and another section was kept inundated. We determined seed bank properties in both areas, spatially and along a soil elevation gradient (20 cm). Nutrient availability was measured by taking sediment samples along the water level gradient and through experimental manipulation of the water level in an indoor mesocosm experiment. Germination was higher in locations with a water level drawdown history, especially at relatively high elevations. Additionally, the proportion of pioneer species in the seed bank was higher in the water level drawdown area. Overall, nutrient concentrations were higher compared to other aquatic systems. Nutrient availability was higher in the inundated area and did not respond to the water level gradient. We conclude that 30 years after an induced water level drawdown there is no depletion of nutrients, while we still observe a legacy effect in the number of viable seeds in the seed bank.