Restoration practice suggests that neighbor control is essential in semiarid grasslands, but ecological theory predicts that neighbor effects are relatively small in young fields. We investigated the effectiveness of neighbor control (mowing and herbicide) for establishing native grasses in a recently abandoned field in southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. We also examined its interactions with common restoration techniques, such as mulching (straw and sawdust) and contrasting sowing methods (drilling, and broadcasting cleaned seeds, cleaning remainders, and native hay). The experiment was repeated over three years to examine the effect of weather. Neighbor control had no effect on establishment and rarely any effect on first-year survival. This contrasted with significant effects of neighbor control on community and ecosystem-level variables (species richness, water, N). The lack of neighbor effects is concordant with theory which predicts low competition intensity from ruderal annuals. Establishment in seeded plots varied two-fold among years in drilled plots and 50-fold in broadcast plots, and it was lowest during a cool, dry summer. Thus, variables beyond human control are a major factor determining restoration success. Overall, broadcasting was as effective as drilling. The highest long-term establishment of native species was produced by broadcasting cleaning remainders. Almost no seedlings emerged from plots supplied with native hay. Straw mulch increased soil moisture and available N, and sawdust decreased N, but neither had any long-term effect on native grasses. Our results suggest that restorations of semiarid old fields should focus less on neighbor control and more on strategies for exploiting suitable years for germination, either by monitoring soil moisture or through repeated seeding.
|Date made available||Jan 1 2016|
|Publisher||figshare Academic Research System|