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Effect of Seed Source, Topsoil Removal, and Plant Neighbor Removal on Restoring California Coastal Prairies


Address correspondence to Elise Buisson, email


Grasslands are hot spots of biodiversity but are now widely threatened by changes in patterns of disturbances, such as grazing and fire regimes, exotic species invasions, and cultivation. The goal of this experiment was to find the most appropriate combination of treatments to reintroduce Danthonia californica, a formerly dominant perennial bunchgrass, into degraded California coastal prairies. Danthonia californica was sown from seed and transplanted at two sites and at two grazing intensities (grazed/ungrazed) in a multifactorial experiment testing the effects of (1) local versus nonlocal seed sources; (2) topsoil removal; and (3) reduction of plant neighbors. Seed emergence was very low, suggesting that transplanting may be a better option to reintroduce D. californica. Although transplants grown from nonlocal seeds survived better initially at both sites, transplants from local seeds had higher survival after 1.5 year at one site. This suggests that short-term plant establishment studies may be misleading. Topsoil removal greatly enhanced transplant survival, and neighbor removal primarily increased transplant growth. Our results suggest that removing topsoil prior to transplanting seedlings grown from local seeds is the most promising method to reintroduce D. californica. However, the benefits of removing topsoil to provide safe sites for plant establishment should be weighed carefully against potential negative effects on the native seed bank and microbial communities on a site-specific basis.