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Replicating Life Cycle of Early-Maturing Species in the Timing of Restoration Seeding Improves Establishment and Community Diversity


S. L. Frischie, email


Tallgrass prairie is among the most endangered ecosystems in North America. High-diversity restorations protect remnant habitat and expand native communities. Excluding land acquisition, the most expensive step in restoration is procuring seed. Given this cost, managers want to maximize seedling establishment. Native species that flower and ripen early in the growing season are included in a diverse seeding mix but as a group they have not successfully established. For early-maturing species, the practice of storing seeds in a cold room from harvest until sowing in the dormant season effectively eliminates exposure to the summer conditions seeds would naturally have in the wild. In this study, we compared the effect of summer sowing timing and winter sowing timing on establishment in field conditions. In August 2004 and December 2004, we broadcast a seed mix of seven early-maturing species: Antennaria plantaginifolia (L.) Richardson. (Pussy toes), Arabis lyrata L. (Sand cress), Carex swanii (Fernald) Mack. (Downy green sedge), Hymenopappus scabiosaeus L'Hér. (Old plainsman), Lupinus perennis L. ssp. perennis var. occidentalis S. Watson. (Wild lupine), Phlox bifida Beck. (Sand phlox) and Hesperostipa spartea (Trin.) Barkworth. (Porcupine grass). We collected data on establishment and reproductive success at 12 time points from June 2005 until October 2008. Species established one growing season sooner when planted at the summer sowing time, and diversity in the summer sowing plots was higher after 4 years. Quicker establishment may have benefits such as providing early competition from weeds that may outweigh additional effort required to ensure timely planting.