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Seth M. Munson, Bradley J. Butterfield, Hannah L. Farrell, Caroline A. Havrilla, Kathleen R. Balazs, Katherine M. Laushman, Molly L. McCormick, Elise S. Gornish, Akasha M. Faist, Loralee Larios, Helen Rowe, Michael C. Duniway, Sasha C. Reed
Despite widespread demand for dryland restoration, there is often sparse information available to help land managers and practitioners effectively establish native vegetation and stabilize soils at degraded sites. Restoration treatments that help overcome barriers of suitable plant material, low and variable rainfall, high temperatures, infertile soils, and invasive species can enhance plant and ecosystem recovery. RestoreNet is a restoration field trial network that systematically tests restoration treatments across environmental gradients in the southwestern US. Digging pits and applying wood mulch treatments increased total seedling density, with pits promoting the highest seeded species recruitment while limiting unseeded non-native species establishment. Seeding increased total seedling density regardless of seed mix type, but seed mixes with cooler-adapted species promoted greater seeded species density relative to warmer adapted mixes. Seedling recruitment was tied to site, time, and environmental context. The positive effect of high precipitation was greatest in the weeks immediately following seeding and in the first-year treatments were implemented. Outplanting greenhouse grown individuals led to higher survival than seeding, and survival of these individuals was driven by traits that allowed for rapid water acquisition during favorable periods at warmer sites. RestoreNet represents a growing opportunity to compare restoration effectiveness across sites and infer appropriate treatments at new sites along environmental gradients before suitable methods are needed following large-scale disturbance. Restoration of ecosystem services to degraded landscapes can be facilitated through a trait-based approach. Specifically, functional traits mediate responses to environmental constraints such as aridity, soil degradation and grazing, as well as effects on ecosystem services like soil stabilization, weed suppression and productivity. Using a trait-based approach, we established a suite of experimental biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiments across the Colorado Plateau as part of RestoreNet. We demonstrate a clear functional basis to plant survival and performance, with strong interactions between relevant traits and the local environmental stressors across experimental restoration sites. Furthermore, we demonstrate the influence of functional traits on the simultaneous provisioning of soil stabilization, weed suppression and productivity, and how tradeoffs and complementarity among these ecosystem services are driven by trait-environment relationships. Lastly, we show that plant water use strategies underpin these patterns, with important implications for site-specific species selection and management objectives. We argue that the results of this research may be generalizable to many dryland ecosystems, and that the general experimental approach, replicated across many sets of environmental conditions and species pools, could help advance restoration theory and practice.
Conference Presentation, SER2021
Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program