Larger and more frequent disturbances are motivating efforts to accelerate recovery of foundational perennial species by focusing efforts into establishing island patches to sustain keystone species and facilitate recovery of the surrounding plant community. Evaluating the variability in abiotic and biotic factors that contribute to differences in survival and establishment can provide useful insight into the relative importance of these factors. In the western United States, severe degradation of the sagebrush steppe has motivated substantial efforts to restore native perennial cover, but success has been mixed. In this study, we evaluated survival of more than 3,000 sagebrush seedlings transplanted on 12 patches totaling 650 ha within a 113,000 ha burn area, and related the survival to organismal and subtaxonomic traits, and to landscape variables. Big sagebrush has high intraspecific diversity attributed to subspecies and cytotypes identifiable through ultraviolet (UV)-induced fluorescence, length:width of leaves, or genome size (ploidy). Of these organismal traits, survival was related only to UV fluorescence, and then only so when landscape variables were excluded from analyses. The most significant landscape variable affecting survival was soil taxonomic subgroup, with much lower survival where buried restrictive layers reduce deep water infiltration. Survival also decreased with greater slope steepness, exotic annual grass cover, and burn severity. Survival was optimal where perennial bunchgrasses comprised 8–14% of total cover. These soil, topographic, and community condition factors revealed through monitoring of landscape-level treatments can be used to explain the success of plantings and to strategically plan future restoration projects.
Davidson, Bill E.; Germino, J. Matthew; Richardson, Bryce; Barnard, David M. 2019. Landscape and organismal factors affecting sagebrush-seedling transplant survival after megafire restoration. Restoration Ecology. doi: 10.1111/rec.12940.