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Does active plant restoration passively restore native fauna community structure and function?

Date: August 05, 2021

Does restoration of native plant communities also restore native wildlife?


A two-panel image showing a cage with no flowers (left) and a cage with abundant flowers (right).
Paired seed cages allowing (left) or excluding (right) rodent access to native plant seeds demonstrate rodent effects on blanket flowers. USDA Forest Service photos by Dean Pearson.

Ecological restoration commonly emphasizes reestablishing native plant communities under the assumption that active restoration of native plant communities will passively restore wildlife species and the important ecological roles that they play.  However, this assumption is rarely tested.  We demonstrate that actively restoring exotic-dominated grasslands to more native plant communities can passively restore native small mammal community structure and also their ecological function as seed predators. While seed predation is an important and desirable long-term function that helps define native plant community composition and inhibit invasion by some exotic plants, in the short term seed predation can incur undesirable feedbacks like suppressing native plant establishment, which may require temporary mitigation. 

We examined how efforts to restore exotic-dominated grassland communities with native plants affected native small mammal communities and the ecological roles that they play as seed predators in natural grasslands.  To do this, we quantified vegetation, small mammal community structure, and small mammal seed predation effects on native plant recruitment in comparable grasslands that were either native-dominated, planted with introduced forage grasses, or had undergone restoration treatments to suppress introduced grasses and increase native plants with and without supplemental watering.   

Key Findings

  • Active grassland restoration shifted exotic dominated communities toward more native plant composition. 
  • Restored plant communities without supplemental watering also exhibited small mammal communities more similar to those found in native grasslands and also restored the important role that small mammals play as seed predators. Restored communities with supplemental watering generated higher small mammal abundance and greater seed predation.
  • Increasing native small mammal abundance can restore or even elevate, in the case of supplemental watering, seed predation.  While the ecological role of small mammal seed predation is desirable in the long term, it may need to be mitigated in the short-term using tools like rodent-deterrent seed coatings to facilitate restoration goals.

Featured Publications

Pearson, Dean E. ; Ortega, Yvette K. ; Cimino, Hillary E. ; Mummy, Daniel L. ; Ramsey, Philip W. , 2022
Taylor, Justin B. ; Cass, Kristina L. ; Armond, David N. ; Madsen, Matthew D. ; Pearson, Dean E. ; St. Clair, Samuel B. , 2020
Pearson, Dean E. ; Valliant, Morgan ; Carlson, Chris ; Thelen, Giles C. ; Ortega, Yvette K. ; Orrock, John L. ; Madsen, Matthew D. , 2018

Principal Investigators: 
Principal Investigators - External: 
Hillary Cimino - National Park Service
External Partners: 
Phil Ramsey - MPG Ranch
Dan Mummey - MPG Ranch
Research Location: 
MPG Ranch, Florence, MT