High richness and dense seeding enhance grassland restoration establishment, but have little effect on drought response

TitleHigh richness and dense seeding enhance grassland restoration establishment, but have little effect on drought response
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsCarter, DL, Blair, JM
JournalEcological Applications
Pagination1308 -1319
Accession NumberKNZ001525

Restorations commonly utilize seed addition to formerly arable lands where the development of native plant communities is severely dispersal limited. However, variation in seed addition practices may profoundly affect restoration outcomes. Theory and observations predict that species-rich seed mixtures and seeding at high densities should enhance native plant community establishment, minimize exotic species cover, and may promote resistance and resilience to, and recovery from, environmental perturbations. We studied the post-seeding establishment of native plant communities in large grassland restoration plots, which were sown at two densities crossed with two levels of species richness on formerly arable land in Nebraska, USA, and their responses to drought. To evaluate drought resistance, recovery, and resilience of restored plant communities, we erected rainfall manipulation structures and tracked the response of seeded species cover and total plant biomass during experimental drought relative to controls and in the post-drought growing season. High seed richness and high-density seeding treatments resulted in greater richness and cover of native, seeded species per 0.5 m2 compared to low-richness and low-density treatments. Cover differences in response to seed mixture richness were driven by native forbs. Richness and cover of exotic species were lowest in high-richness and high-density treatments. We found little evidence of differential drought resistance, recovery, and resilience among seeding treatments. Increases in exotic species across years were restricted to drought subplots, and were not affected by seeding treatments. Grassland restoration was generally enhanced and exotic cover reduced both by the use of high-richness seed mixtures and high-density seeding. Given the lack of restoration treatment effects on the resistance, recovery, or resilience of seeded species exposed to drought, and the increases in exotic species following drought, other forms of active management may be needed to produce restored plant communities that are robust to climate change.