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Keywords:

  • genetic diversity;
  • genetic structure;
  • grassland;
  • prairie;
  • propagule;
  • soil

Abstract

Genetic principles underlie recommendations to use local seed, but a paucity of information exists on the genetic distinction and ecological consequences of using different seed sources in restorations. We established a field experiment to test whether cultivars and local ecotypes of dominant prairie grasses were genetically distinct and differentially influenced ecosystem functioning. Whole plots were assigned to cultivar and local ecotype grass sources. Three subplots within each whole plot were seeded to unique pools of subordinate species. The cultivar of the increasingly dominant grass, Sorghastrum nutans, was genetically different than the local ecotype, but genetic diversity was similar between the two sources. There were no differences in aboveground net primary production, soil carbon accrual, and net nitrogen mineralization rate in soil between the grass sources. Comparable productivity of the grass sources among the species pools for four years shows functional equivalence in terms of biomass production. Subordinate species comprised over half the aboveground productivity, which may have diluted the potential for documented trait differences between the grass sources to influence ecosystem processes. Regionally developed cultivars may be a suitable alternative to local ecotypes for restoration in fragmented landscapes with limited gene flow between natural and restored prairie and negligible recruitment by seed.