Soil seed banks in church forests of northern Ethiopia: Implications for the conservation of woody plants

A. Wassie, D. Teketay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Church forests are sanctuaries for different organisms, ranging from microbes to large animals, which have almost disappeared in most parts of northern Ethiopia. Despite the actual and potential significance of these forests, studies and documented information on their bio-physical features and socio-economic setting are either scanty or totally lacking. A study was, therefore, carried out in seven of these church forests, namely Hiruy, Zahara, Gibtsawit, Gelawdiwos, Dengolt, Debresena and Ascha with the objective of assessing the composition, densities and spatial heterogeneity of soil seed banks. The number of viable seeds in the soil samples, from both germination and sieving, corresponded to a seed bank density down to 9 cm in the soil of 7594 seeds m(-2) at Ascha, 2064 seeds m(-2) at Debresena, 4208 seeds m(-2) at Dengolt, 3158 seeds m-2 at Gelawdiwos, 2754 seeds m(-2) at Gibtsawit, 2759 seeds m(-2) at Hiruy, and 1909 seeds m(-2) at Zahra. The total number of species recorded was 50, representing at least 22 plant families, in the seven church forests, of which 13 were recorded from Ascha, 29 from Debresena, 26 from Dengolt, 19 from Gibtsawit, 22 from Gelawdiwos, 20 from Hiruy and 21 from Zahra. There was a significant difference in seed densities and number of species recovered from the soil seed banks of the seven church forests. Ascha had a significantly higher seed bank density than all other church forests. Dengolt exhibited a significantly higher number of species compared with other church forests. Of the identified species recorded from the seven church forests, 83% were herbs, 11% trees and 6% shrubs. Our results revealed that church forests accumulate large quantities of persistent seeds of herbaceous species in the soil while only five (6%) of the 91 woody species recorded in the standing vegetation of the seven church forests were represented in the soil seed banks. The fact that most of the dominant tree species do not accumulate seeds in the soil suggests that their regeneration from seeds would be prevented by removal of mature individuals in the standing vegetation. The results also provided further evidences that consolidate the conclusions of previous studies, i.e. the future existence of the woody flora characteristic of dry Afromontane areas in Ethiopia depends on the conservation and sustainable utilization of the few remnant natural forests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-43
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • dry afromontane forests
  • buried seeds
  • vegetation
  • temperature
  • germination
  • light


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