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Grass-Shrub Associations over a Precipitation Gradient and Their Implications for Restoration in the Great Basin, USA

PloS one, , , 2015


Status: Published

Citations:

Cite: [bibtex]


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Abstract: As environmental stress increases positive (facilitative) plant interactions often predominate. Plant-plant associations (or lack thereof) can indicate whether certain plant species favor particular types of microsites (e.g., shrub canopies or plant-free interspaces) and can provide valuable insights into whether “nurse plants” will contribute to seeding or planting success during ecological restoration. It can be difficult, however, to anticipate how relationships between nurse plants and plants used for restoration may change over large-ranging, regional stress gradients. We investigated associations between the shrub, Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis), and three common native grasses (Poa secunda, Elymus elymoides, and Pseudoroegneria spicata), representing short-, medium-, and deep-rooted growth forms, respectively, across an annual rainfall gradient (220–350 mm) in the Great Basin, USA. We hypothesized that positive shrub-grass relationships would become more frequent at lower rainfall levels, as indicated by greater cover of grasses in shrub canopies than vegetation-free interspaces. We sampled aerial cover, density, height, basal width, grazing status, and reproductive status of perennial grasses in canopies and interspaces of 25–33 sagebrush individuals at 32 sites along a rainfall gradient. We found that aerial cover of the shallow rooted grass, P. secunda, was higher in sagebrush canopy than interspace microsites at lower levels of rainfall. Cover and density of the medium-rooted grass, E. elymoides were higher in sagebrush canopies than interspaces at all but the highest rainfall levels. Neither annual rainfall nor sagebrush canopy microsite significantly affected P. spicata cover. E. elymoides and P. spicata plants were taller, narrower, and less likely to be grazed in shrub canopy microsites than interspaces. Our results suggest that exploring sagebrush canopy microsites for restoration of native perennial grasses might improve plant establishment, growth, or survival (or some combination thereof), particularly in drier areas. We suggest that land managers consider the nurse plant approach as a way to increase perennial grass abundance in the Great Basin. Controlled experimentation will provide further insights into the life stage-specific effectiveness and practicality of a nurse plant approach for ecological restoration in this region.


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Joshua Bongard - Department of Computer Science, Associate Professor

Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.


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Chris Danforth -Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Flint Professor of Mathematical, Natural, and Technical Sciences

Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.

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Laurent Hébert-Dufresne - Assistant Professor, Computer Science

Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.

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Paul Hines - School of Engineering, Associate Professor

Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.

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James Bagrow - Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).

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