Plant community response to switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) population source in establishing prairies

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Ecological restoration and revegetation efforts entail the translocation of native plant populations. Risks associated with these efforts include failure of translocated populations to establish or, conversely, such strong establishment that they excessively dominate the recipient community. The role that selective breeding plays in mediating these risks is unclear but of increasing importance as efforts to restore and establish multifunctional grasslands also increase. In a three-year, spatially replicated study, we seeded experimental prairie communities with either domesticated (cultivar) or undomesticated strains of Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), a North American C4 species under development as a biomass crop. We evaluated the composition, performance, and diversity of the recipient plant communities and compared the performance of cultivar and undomesticated switchgrass in those communities. We found little evidence that switchgrass population source affected community response. Switchgrass cultivars modestly exceeded undomesticated strains with respect to stand establishment, third-year stand density, and aboveground biomass; effect size and significance differed among sites. Our results suggest that including cultivars in ecological restorations and multifunctional grasslands may enhance success of switchgrass establishment with little risk of impairing the composition or diversity of plant communities for up to three years, as reflected in the measures used here. However, the incorporation of undomesticated switchgrass into multifunctional grasslands may enhance landscape-scale genetic variation and mitigate risks associated with gene flow between translocated and local wild switchgrass populations; more research on these dynamics is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1818-1829
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by an Integrated Graduate Research and Education Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (DGE 0653827) and Fellowships from the Garden Clubs of America in Ecological Restoration, from the Graduate School and the Carolyn Crosby Fund at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and from the Dayton Fund of the Bell Museum of Natural History to S. A. Flint. We are grateful for field and laboratory assistance provided by Mindi DePaola, Brittany Dilley, Holly Lammert, Jesse Mack, and Dana Olofson. We thank Tom Warnke, Mike McClellan, Steve Poppe, Tom Holm, Ron Nelson, and Bob Schafer for their assistance. Arvid Boe generously provided the Summer switchgrass seed used in this experiment. Diane L. Larson, Neil O. Anderson, Subject Matter Editor Edith Allen, and two anonymous reviewers provided constructive comments that greatly improved this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the Ecological Society of America


  • Panicum virgatum
  • community
  • cultivar
  • diversity
  • ecotype
  • multifunctional grassland
  • native biomass crops
  • population source
  • prairie
  • restoration
  • seed sourcing
  • switchgrass


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