High-diversity seed additions accelerate recovery of herbaceous community during woodland restoration

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Andrew Kaul , Noah Dell , Meg Engelhardt , Quinn Long, J. Leighton Reid , Michael Saxton , James Trager , Matthew Albrecht

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Propagule limitation represents a fundamental constraint to the restoration of native plant communities, and practitioners often apply seed additions to overcome this barrier. Few studies have experimentally tested whether inter-seeding can facilitate recovery of herbaceous communities of degraded oak woodlands, which have undergone large-scale transformation due to altered fire regimes and exotic invasion. Previous work suggests that removal of woody encroachment, and process-based (prescribed fire) restoration treatments alone are unlikely to restore the full breadth of taxonomic and functional diversity in the herb-layer, which maintains the vast majority of species in woodland ecosystems. To explore whether seed additions can improve restoration outcomes in oak woodland, we sowed high-diversity seed mixes in paired transects (seeded vs. controls) along a topographic gradient in a degraded site undergoing restoration with shrub removal, tree thinning, and burning. Seed mixes represented native forbs, grasses, and sedges (169 species) in the regional species pool, and were designed to match a species’ habitat affinity to appropriate locations along the topographic gradient. The herb flora was sampled before and for two years after inter-seeding. Seed additions significantly altered community and functional composition, and increased native species cover, richness, and floristic quality relative to controls. However, only 69 of the sown species were detected. We found evidence that dispersal and establishment limitation are both important barriers to the recovery of the herb flora in oak woodlands, but that high-diversity seed mixes in conjunction with exotic removal, thinning, and burning can accelerate recovery of herbaceous communities on highly degraded sites.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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