Convergent and Contingent Community Responses to Grass Source and Dominance During Prairie Restoration Across a Longitudinal Gradient
Restoring prairie on formerly cultivated land begins by selecting propagule seed sources and the diversity of species to reintroduce. This study examined the effects of dominant grass propagule source (cultivar vs. non-cultivar) and sown propagule diversity (grass:forb sowing ratio) on plant community structure. Two field experiments were established in Kansas and Illinois consisting of identical split plot designs. Dominant grass source was assigned as the whole-plot factor, and sown dominance of grasses (five levels of seeded grass dominance) as the subplot factor. Species density, cover, and diversity were quantified for 5 years. The effect of dominant grass source on the cover of focal grasses, sown species, and volunteer species was contingent upon location, with variation between dominant grass sources observed exclusively in Kansas. Species density and diversity showed regionally convergent patterns in response to dominant grass source. Contrary to our hypotheses, total species density and diversity were not lower in the presence of grass cultivars, the grass source we had predicted would be more competitive. Sown grass dominance effects on the cover of the focal grass species were contingent upon location resulting from establishment corresponding better to the assigned treatments in Illinois. All other cover groups showed regionally convergent patterns, with lower cover of volunteers and higher cover of sown forbs, diversity, and species density in the lowest sown grass dominance treatment in both sites. Thus, decisions regarding the diversity of propagules to reintroduce had more consequence for plant community structure than cultivar or non-cultivar source of dominant grasses.