Native Consumers and Seed Limitation Constrain the Restoration of a Native Perennial Grass in Exotic Habitats


  • John L. Orrock,

    Corresponding author
    1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, U.S.A.
    2. Department of Biology, Washington University, Saint Louis, MO 63130, U.S.A.
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  • Martha S. Witter,

    1. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, National Park Service, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360, U.S.A.
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  • O. J. Reichman

    1. Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to J. Orrock, email


Native consumers and seed limitation may be particularly important in the restoration of native plants where they have been displaced by exotic plants. We used experimental exclosures and seed additions to examine the role of native mammalian consumers and seeding density (500 or 1,000 seeds/m2) in affecting the establishment of a native perennial grass, Purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra), in the grasslands of California. To focus solely on consumers and propagule density, experimental areas were tilled and weeded. Consumers were important determinants of restoration success: averaged across propagule density, consumers reduced N. pulchra seedling recruitment by nearly 30%, reduced seedling height by 44%, reduced plant establishment by 52%, and reduced reproductive tiller length by 43%. Small rodents affected seedling establishment, especially where seeding density was high but did not affect seedling height. Plots accessible by squirrels and rabbits exhibited significantly decreased seedling height and plant establishment, whereas there was no additional impact of allowing large consumers (i.e., deer) access. Despite strong, spatially variable effects of consumers, doubling seed density led to nearly doubled N. pulchra establishment on average. Consumer effects were persistent, shaping N. pulchra abundance in the subsequent growing season and remaining evident over 18 months after the experiment was initiated. Our work suggests that, despite strong consumer effects, seed addition may be a viable strategy for restoration of N. pulchra in invaded areas where it has been displaced by exotic plants, especially when combined with restoration strategies that reduce competition with exotic plants.