Attempting to Restore Herbaceous Understories in Wyoming Big Sagebrush Communities with Mowing and Seeding

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Abstract

Shrub steppe communities with depleted perennial herbaceous understories often need to be restored to increase resilience and resistance. Mowing has been applied to Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt. ssp. wyomingensis Beetle & Young) steppe plant communities to reduce sagebrush dominance and restore native herbaceous vegetation, but success has been limited and hampered by increases in exotic annuals. Seeding native bunchgrasses after mowing may accelerate recovery and limit exotics. We compared mowing followed by drill-seeding native bunchgrasses to mowing and an untreated control at five sites in southeastern Oregon over a 4-year period. Mowing and seeding bunchgrasses increased bunchgrass density; however, bunchgrass cover did not differ among treatments. Exotic annuals increased with mowing whether or not post-mowing seeding occurred. Mowing, whether or not seeding occurred, also reduced biological soil crusts. Longer term evaluation is needed to determine if seeded bunchgrasses will increase enough to suppress exotic annuals. Seeded bunchgrasses may have been limited by increases in exotic annuals. Though restoration of sagebrush communities with degraded understories is needed, we do not recommend mowing and seeding native bunchgrasses because this treatment produced mixed results that may lower the resilience and resistance of these communities. Before this method is applied, research is needed to increase our understanding of how to improve establishment of seeded native bunchgrasses. Alternatively, restoration practitioners may need to apply treatments to control exotic annuals and repeatedly seed native bunchgrasses.

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