, Volume 81, Issue 1, pp 62-66

Control of shrub establishment by springtime soil water availability in an annual grassland

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Previous studies have shown that the shrub, Baccharis pilularis spp. consanguinea, invades annual grasslands in the San Francisco Bay region in a sporadic manner. Invasion was shown to be positively correlated with the amount of rainfall received in the spring. Here we show that, although Baccharis seeds are dispersed near the beginning of the winter rainy season, seedling root growth is extremely slow until spring. At this time, cessation of the winter rains and transpiration by the grassland annuals results in drying of the upper soil profile. We conclude that establishment of Baccharis seedlings at our study site usually fails because seedling roots cannot reach depths of permanently moist soil, below the depth of the grass roots, before this soil drought occurs. The continuation of rains into the warmer spring months provides a window of time when favorable temperatures and adequate soil moisture allow shrubs to establish.