Plant community response to regional sources of dominant grasses in grasslands restored across a longitudinal gradient


Restorations in the light of climate change will need to take into account whether or not sources of the dominant plants are adapted to the future conditions at a site. In addition, the effect of these dominants, especially if sourced from outside the local area, on the assembling plant community needs assessment. We investigated how different ecotypes of the tallgrass prairie dominants Andropogon gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans affect assembling prairie communities. Four reciprocal common garden experiments were established across a longitudinal climate gradient characterized by a decrease in aridity in western Kansas (COLBY), central Kansas (HAYS), eastern Kansas (MANHATTAN), and southern Illinois (CARBONDALE). At each site, plots were seeded with ecotypes of A. gerardii and S. nutans sourced from central Kansas (CKS), eastern Kansas (EKS), southern Illinois (SIL), or a mix of all three regional ecotypes (MIX). All plots were also seeded with the same suite of seven subordinate species. Species composition was measured during the fourth year of restoration. The greatest variation between communities occurred at HAYS and CARBONDALE between plots seeded with CKS and SIL ecotypes. At these sites, plots seeded with the local source had the lowest diversity and cover of nondominant species. Compositional variation between plots seeded with different dominant grass ecotypes was found exclusively at CARBONDALE between CKS and SIL plots. Differences between locally seeded plots and plots seeded with a MIX of dominant grass ecotypes were contingent upon site. At CARBONDALE, MIX seeded plots had higher diversity than SIL ecotype plots. Our results indicate that across a wide geographic precipitation gradient, limited but important differences in community assembly occur in restorations established with different ecotypes of the dominant grasses. However, our results also support the use of mixtures of nonlocal ecotypes of dominant grasses in restorations without risk to the assembling plant community. Future studies need to determine the potential for out-breeding effects among seed sources in mixed stands.


Citation: Wilson, L. R., Gibson, D. J., Baer, S. G., & Johnson, L. C. (2016). Plant community response to regional sources of dominant grasses in grasslands restored across a longitudinal gradient. Ecosphere, 7(4), 16. doi:10.1002/ecs2.1329


Andropogon Gerardii, Community Response, Dominant Species, Ecotype, Grassland, Prairies