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Restoring dryland old fields with native shrubs and grasses: Does facilitation and seed source matter?

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posted on 18.10.2018, 17:51 by Shauna M. Uselman, Jay Davison, Owen W. Baughman, Benjamin W. Sullivan, W. Wally Miller, Elizabeth A. Leger

Restoration of agricultural fields is challenging, especially in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. We conducted experiments in two fields in the Great Basin, USA, which differed in cultivation history and fertility. We tested the effects of different levels of functional diversity (planting grasses and shrubs together, vs. planting shrubs alone), seed source (cultivars, local or distant wild-collections), and irrigation regime (spring or fall and spring) on restoration outcomes. We sowed either: 1) grasses and shrubs in year one, 2) shrubs only, in year one, 3) grasses in year one with herbicide, shrubs in year two, or 4) shrubs alone in year two, after a year of herbicide. We irrigated for two years and monitored for three years. Shrub emergence was highest in the lower fertility field, where increasing functional diversity by seeding grasses had a neutral or facilitative effect on shrub emergence. In the higher fertility field, increasing functional diversity appeared to have a neutral to competitive effect. After declines in shrub densities after irrigation ceased, these effects did not persist. Grasses initially suppressed or had a neutral effect on weeds relative to an unseeded control, but had neutral or facilitative effects on weeds relative to shrub-only seeding. Initially, commercial grasses were either equivalent to or outperformed wild-collected grasses, but after irrigation ceased, commercial grasses were outperformed by wild-collected grasses in the higher fertility field. Local shrubs initially outperformed distant shrubs, but this effect did not persist. Fall and spring irrigation combined with local shrubs and wild-collected grasses was the most successful strategy in the higher fertility field, while in the lower fertility field, irrigation timing had fewer effects. Superior shrub emergence and higher grass persistence indicated that the use of wild and local seed sources is generally warranted, whereas the effects of functional diversity and irrigation regime were context-dependent. A bet-hedging approach that uses a variety of strategies may maximize the chances of restoration success.

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