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Keywords:

  • Andropogon gerardii;
  • competition;
  • diversity;
  • mesic grassland restoration;
  • Panicum virgatum;
  • species removal

Warm-season (C4) grasses commonly dominate tallgrass prairie restorations, often at the expense of subordinate grasses and forbs that contribute most to diversity in this ecosystem. To assess whether the cover and abundance of dominant grass species constrain plant diversity, we removed 0, 50, or 100% of tillers of two dominant species (Andropogon gerardii or Panicum virgatum) in a 7-year-old prairie restoration. Removing 100% of the most abundant species, A. gerardii, significantly increased light availability, forb productivity, forb cover, species richness, species evenness, and species diversity. Removal of a less abundant but very common species, P. virgatum, did not significantly affect resource availability or the local plant community. We observed no effect of removal treatments on critical belowground resources, including inorganic soil N or soil moisture. Species richness was inversely correlated with total grass productivity and percent grass cover and positively correlated with light availability at the soil surface. These relationships suggest that differential species richness among removal treatments resulted from treatment induced differences in aboveground resources rather than the belowground resources. Selective removal of the dominant species A. gerardii provided an opportunity for seeded forb species to become established leading to an increase in species richness and diversity. Therefore, management practices that target reductions in cover or biomass of the dominant species may enhance diversity in established and grass-dominated mesic grassland restorations.