, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 245-254

Revegetation following Soil Disturbance and Invasion in a Californian Meadow: a 10-year History of Recovery

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Abstract

Disturbance is necessary for the regeneration of many native plant species, but can also facilitate biological invasions. As a result, disturbance can play complex roles in vulnerable habitats such as remnant Californian perennial grasslands. To investigate these conflicts, plots in a northern Californian coastal grassland were experimentally disturbed in the winter of 1990–1991; these plots differed in the area and intensity (depth) of the soil disturbance applied. When these plots were revisited after 10 growing seasons, patterns of revegetation differed significantly from those observed early in recolonization (0–3 years). At the earlier samplings, exotic annual grasses rapidly increased in most disturbance types. After 10 years, these exotic annuals had retreated from the depth experiment, which had recovered to a vegetation dominated by native perennials in all but the most severely disturbed plots. In contrast, although differences between control and disturbed plots also disappeared in the area experiment, the average abundance of aliens did not decline substantially relative to 1993 levels, especially in larger disturbances. Nonetheless, populations of aliens remained small compared to the peak populations in the depth experiment, probably reflecting wetter soils at the site used for the area experiment. These results differ from those of other recent studies of soil disturbance in coastal Californian ecosystems, which indicate disturbance may result in the permanent replacement of native perennial vegetation by dense populations of exotic annual grasses. This difference may reflect the high resilience of northern coastal grasslands as well as the scale of disturbances considered by different studies.