Seed and microsite limitation in a late-successional old field: The effects of water, adults, litter, and small mammals on seeds and seedlings

Ray Dybzinski, David Tilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Many plant communities are recruitment limited, which may occur because there are either too few seeds to fill available microsites, too few available microsites, or both. In a recruitment-limited, Minnesota, USA old field, we tested among these alternatives in a three-phase study. In phase 1, we estimated the production of late-successional forb and C4 grass seeds. In phase 2, we experimentally modified field establishment conditions with rainfall amendment, adult plant thinning, litter reduction, and small mammal exclusion. We then measured recruitment. On average, of the nearly 2,600 seeds produced m -2, only 164 seeds m -2 were present and living after overwintering, as measured by field and greenhouse germination. Furthermore, on average, only 9 of those 164 seeds m -2 germinated in the field, even under the relaxed establishment conditions of our four experimental treatments. Although adults of C4 grasses dominate the field, surprisingly few C4 grass seedlings germinated. To understand why, in phase 3, we added seed of the three dominant C4 grasses into the same plots the following year. Their ability to recruit into control plots compared with treated plots was relatively lower than for the ambiently recruited forbs from phase 2, suggesting that the competitively dominant C4 grasses have greater difficulty establishing in the extant community. Of the seeds that did germinate in the field in phases 2 and 3, all four experimental treatments significantly improved at least one stage of establishment, with the rainfall amendment having the greatest overall effect across species. In total, our results suggest that seed limitation was exacerbated by microsite limitation via multiple mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1003-1013
Number of pages11
JournalPlant Ecology
Volume213
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

Keywords

  • Cedar Creek
  • Drought
  • Filters
  • Grassland
  • Safe site
  • Seed bank

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