Soil solarization based on natural soil moisture: a practical approach for reducing the seed bank of invasive plants in wetlands.
Soil solarization is a well-established method to disinfect soil for efficient weed control. However, the feasibility of applying this method in the restoration of invaded natural habitats is unclear. This is because soil moisture is necessary for the success of solarization, but pre-irrigation in natural ecosystems is often not applicable, or demands high labor investment, making it unsuitable for use in restoration. The present study was based on the idea that the relatively high soil moisture in wetlands might obviate the need for pre-irrigation, rendering this method much more applicable in natural habitats. We examined the efficacy of soil solarization using natural soil moisture to control the seed bank of the invasive plant, Acacia saligna, in a wetland, using large-scale experimental plots (0.38 ha each). An old, dense A. saligna grove was cut down and the roots were removed by a bulldozer. The plot was mulched with a transparent polyethylene sheet in early July and left on the soil for 14 weeks. Soil solarization significantly reduced the viability of seeds of A. saligna that had been experimentally buried. Additionally, viability of seeds in the natural seed bank was reduced, and seedling emergence was close to zero. Exposing seeds to soil temperature and soil moisture levels equivalent to those obtained during field soil solarization under controlled conditions significantly increased the release from dormancy of the seeds, suggesting that release from dormancy during the early stage of solarization is a critical stage leading to seed weakening or mortality in the soil. Soil solarization also decreased the cover and abundance of the natural vegetation; therefore, active revegetation is required to restore the natural vegetation and to conserve endangered and endemic species.