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Identifying Native Vegetation for Reducing Exotic Species during the Restoration of Desert Ecosystems


S. R. Abella, email


There is currently much interest in restoration ecology in identifying native vegetation that can decrease the invasibility by exotic species of environments undergoing restoration. However, uncertainty remains about restoration's ability to limit exotic species, particularly in deserts where facilitative interactions between plants are prevalent. Using candidate native species for restoration in the Mojave Desert of the southwestern U.S.A., we experimentally assembled a range of plant communities from early successional forbs to late-successional shrubs and assessed which vegetation types reduced the establishment of the priority invasive annuals Bromus rubens (red brome) and Schismus spp. (Mediterranean grass) in control and N-enriched soils. Compared to early successional grass and shrub and late-successional shrub communities, an early forb community best resisted invasion, reducing exotic species biomass by 88% (N added) and 97% (no N added) relative to controls (no native plants). In native species monocultures, Sphaeralcea ambigua (desert globemallow), an early successional forb, was the least invasible, reducing exotic biomass by 91%. However, the least-invaded vegetation types did not reduce soil N or P relative to other vegetation types nor was native plant cover linked to invasibility, suggesting that other traits influenced native-exotic species interactions. This study provides experimental field evidence that native vegetation types exist that may reduce exotic grass establishment in the Mojave Desert, and that these candidates for restoration are not necessarily late-successional communities. More generally, results indicate the importance of careful native species selection when exotic species invasions must be constrained for restoration to be successful.