Plant Ecology

, Volume 215, Issue 11, pp 1287–1298 | Cite as

Seed and microsite limitations mediate stochastic recruitment in a low-diversity prairie restoration

  • Quinn Long
  • Bryan L. Foster
  • Kelly Kindscher


Recruitment of species into plant communities requires the arrival of viable propagules to coincide with the availability of suitable microsites for establishment. Accordingly, the rarity of recruitment events due to seed and/or microsite limitations may constrain the establishment, diversity, and spatial distribution of species in plant communities, thus potentially mediating stochastic recruitment—herein described as probabilistic and unpredictable patterns of species establishment over space that can emerge in the absence or in spite of environmental heterogeneity. To examine this premise, we applied a gradient of propagule pressure, using 37 native forb species, to plots subjected to disturbances of varying intensity in a low-diversity grassland restoration in Eastern Kansas, USA. We monitored establishment for three years, assessing the effects of propagule pressure and disturbance on sown species stem density, richness, composition, and community dissimilarity. Seed limitation was the primary constraint on species richness in this grassland, but both propagule pressure and disturbance had positive, interactive effects on stem density. Increased propagule pressure enhanced recruitment and reduced community dissimilarity among disturbance treatment replicates, thus tempering stochastic recruitment. High propagule pressure led to compositional divergence among disturbance treatments, indicative of deterministic species sorting. These results suggest that seed limitation and stochastic recruitment have important implications for beta diversity and spatial structuring of plant community species compositions, acting to (1) generate and maintain beta diversity by producing stochastic spatial variation in species composition among environmentally similar localities; while concurrently (2) limiting beta diversity by constraining the expression of niche-based species sorting in response to environmental heterogeneity.


Beta diversity Disturbance Microsite limitation Propagule pressure Seed addition Stochastic 



Funding was provided by Prairie Fork Trust and the University of Kansas Ecological Reserves, with support from NSF Grant # 0950100 and the Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowship. Bernadette Kuhn and Joel Harvester provided invaluable field assistance. Matthew Albrecht, Ford Ballantyne IV, Adam Smith, and three anonymous reviewers provided insightful comments to improve this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11258_2014_387_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (37 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 37 kb)
11258_2014_387_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (10 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 10 kb)


  1. Anderson MJ (2001) A new method for non-parametric multivariate analysis of variance. Austral Ecol 26:32–46Google Scholar
  2. Anderson MJ (2004) PERMDISP: a FORTRAN computer program for permutational analysis of multivariate dispersions (for any two-factor ANOVA design) using permutation tests. Department of Statistics, University of Auckland, New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson MJ (2006) Distance-based tests for homogeneity of multivariate dispersions. Biometrics 62:245–253PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson MJ, Gorley RN, Clark KR (2008) PERMANOVA + for PRIMER: Guide to Software and Statistical Methods, PRIMER-E. Plymouth, UK Google Scholar
  5. Camill P, McKone MJ, Sturges ST, Severud WJ, Ellis E, Limmer J, Martin CB, Navratil RT, Purdie AJ, Sandel BS, Talukder S, Trout A (2004) Community- and ecosystem-level changes in a species-rich tallgrass prairie restoration. Ecol Appl 14:1680–1694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chase JM (2003) Community assembly: when should history matter? Oecologia 136:489–498PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chase JM (2005) Towards a really unified theory for metacommunities. Funct Ecol 19:182–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chase JM (2010) Stochastic community assembly causes higher biodiversity in more productive environments. Science 328:1388–1391PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Collins SL (1992) Fire frequency and community heterogeneity in tallgrass prairie vegetation. Ecology 73:2001–2006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Copeland TE, Sluis W, Howe HF (2002) Fire season and dominance in an Illinois tallgrass prairie restoration. Restor Ecol 10:315–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davis MA, Pelsor M (2001) Experimental support for a resource-based mechanistic model of invasibility. Ecol Lett 4:421–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davis MA, Grime JP, Thompson K (2000) Fluctuating resources in plant communities: a general theory of invasibility. J Ecol 88:528–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dufrene M, Legendre P (1997) Species assemblages and indicator species: the need for a flexible asymmetrical approach. Ecol Monogr 67:345–366Google Scholar
  14. Eriksson O, Ehrlén J (1992) Seed and microsite limitation of recruitment in plant populations. Oecologia 91:360–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Facelli JM, Facelli E (1993) Interactions after death: plant litter controls priority effects in a successional plant community. Oecologia 95:277–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Foster BL (2001) Constraints on colonization and species richness along a grassland productivity gradient: the role of propagule availability. Ecol Lett 4:530–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Frances AL, Adams CR, Norcini JG (2010) Importance of seed and microsite limitation: native wildflower establishment in non-native pasture. Restor Ecol 18:944–953CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gotelli NJ, Entsminger GL (2009) EcoSim: Null models software for ecology, Version 7.72 Acquired Intelligence Inc, and Kesey-Bear.
  19. Gravel D, Canham CD, Beaudet M, Messier C (2006) Reconciling niche and neutrality: the continuum hypothesis. Ecol Lett 9:399–409PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jutila HM, Grace JB (2002) Effects of disturbance on germination and seedling establishment in a coastal prairie grassland: a test of the competitive release hypothesis. J Ecol 90:291–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kettle WD, Rich PM, Kindscher K, Pittman G, Fu P (2000) Land-use history in ecosystem restoration: a 40-year study in the prairie-forest ecotone. Restor Ecol 8:307–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kindscher K, Tieszen LL (1998) Floristic and soil organic matter changes after five and thirty-five years of native tallgrass prairie restoration. Restor Ecol 6:181–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Knapp AK, Seastedt TR (1986) Detritus accumulation limits productivity of tallgrass prairie. Bioscience 36:662–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Leibold MA, Holyoak M, Mouquet N, Amarasekare P, Chase JM, Hoopes MF, Holt RD, Shurin JB, Law R, Tilman D, Loreau M, Gonzalez A (2004) The metacommunity concept: a framework for multi-scale community ecology. Ecol Lett 7:601–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Long Q (2010) Species coexistence in restored grassland plant communities: Trait-based recruitment, niche-neutral assembly and heterogeneous management. Dissertation, University of KansasGoogle Scholar
  26. MacDougall AS, Turkington R (2007) Does the type of disturbance matter when restoring disturbance-dependent grasslands? Restor Ecol 15:263–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Martin LM, Moloney KA, Wilsey BJ (2005) An assessment of grassland restoration success using species diversity components. J Appl Ecol 42:327–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McCune B, Mefford MJ (1999) PC-ORD. Multivariate analysis of ecological data. Version 5.0. In: MjM Software Design Gleneden Beach, Oregon, USAGoogle Scholar
  29. Mouquet N, Leadley P, Meriguet J, Loreau M (2004) Immigration and local competition in herbaceous plant communities: a three-year seed-sowing experiment. Oikos 104:77–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Myers JA, Harms KE (2009) Seed arrival, ecological filters, and plant species richness: a meta-analysis. Ecol Lett 12:250–1260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Orrock JL, Fletcher RJ (2005) Changes in community size affect the outcome of competition. Am Nat 166:107–111PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Orrock JL, Watling JI (2010) Local community size mediates ecological drift and competition in metacommunities. Proc R Soc B 277:2185–2191PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Polley HW, Derner JD, Wilsey (2005) Patterns of plant species diversity in remnant and restored tallgrass prairies. Restor Ecol 13:480–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Samson F, Knopf F (1994) Prairie conservation in North America. Bioscience 44:418–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stevens MHH, Bunker DE, Schnitzer SA, Carson WP (2004) Establishment limitation reduces species recruitment and species richness as soil resources rise. J Ecol 92:339–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tilman D (1993) Species richness of experimental productivity gradients: how important is colonization limitation. Ecology 74:2179–2191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tilman D (1997) Community invasibility, recruitment limitation, and grassland biodiversity. Ecology 79:81–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tilman D (2004) Niche tradeoffs, neutrality, and community structure: a stochastic theory of resource competition, invasion, and community assembly. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:10854–10861PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Turnbull LA, Crawley MJ, Rees M (2000) Are plant populations seed-limited? A review of seed sowing experiments. Oikos 88:225–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. USDA-NRCS (2013) The PLANTS Database. URL
  41. Wan SQ, Hui DF, Luo YQ (2001) Fire effects on nitrogen pools and dynamics in terrestrial ecosystems: a meta-analysis. Ecol Appl 11:1349–1365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Weaver JE, Fitzpatrick TJ (1934) The prairie. Ecol Monogr 4:109–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Xiong S, Johansson ME, Hughes FMR, Hayes A, Richards KS, Nilsson C (2003) Interactive effects of soil moisture, vegetation canopy, plant litter and seed addition on plant diversity in a wetland community. J Ecol 91:976–986CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Quinn Long
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bryan L. Foster
    • 3
  • Kelly Kindscher
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kansas Biological SurveyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Center for Conservation and Sustainable DevelopmentSaint LouisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  4. 4.Kansas Biological SurveyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

Personalised recommendations