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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #403171

Research Project: Restoration and Conservation of Great Basin Ecosystems

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Title: A recruitment niche framework for improving seed-based restoration

item Larson, Julie Elizab
item AGNERAY, ALISON - Bureau Of Land Management
item Boyd, Chad
item BRADFORD, JOHN - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item KILDISHEVA, OLGA - The Nature Conservancy
item SUDING, KATHERINE - University Of Colorado
item Copeland, Stella

Submitted to: Restoration Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/30/2023
Publication Date: 7/12/2023
Citation: Larson, J.E., Agneray, A.C., Boyd, C.S., Bradford, J.B., Kildisheva, O.A., Suding, K.N., Copeland, S.M. 2023. A recruitment niche framework for improving seed-based restoration. Restoration Ecology. Article e13959.

Interpretive Summary: Seed-based restoration (SBR) underpins global restoration efforts, yet plant recruitment from seed remains limited in drylands, often leading to restoration failure and widespread loss of native plant communities. The recruitment niche concept is a valuable tool to understand key barriers during plant establishment, but it is underutilized in planning – lacking a quantitative foundation to describe differences among species that could improve their use in SBR. We propose a standard framework to represent species’ recruitment niches based on traits reflecting seed and seedling function (e.g., seed mass, dormancy) and demonstrate its potential to inform more precise seed mix design and seeding practices in SBR.

Technical Abstract: As larger tracts of land experience degradation, seed-based restoration (SBR) will be a primary tool to reestablish vegetation and ecosystem function. SBR has advanced in terms of technical and technological approaches, yet plant recruitment remains a major barrier in some systems, notably drylands. There is an unmet opportunity to test science-based approaches to seed mix design and application, based not only on diversity or local provenance, but on the unique recruitment strategies of species. We lay out a framework that uses a quantitative representation of species' recruitment niches to match them to targeted goals (e.g. drought or invasion resistance) and methods (e.g. precision tools and technologies) in SBR. We first describe how to quantify the recruitment niche with seed and seedling traits tied to observed recruitment responses to environmental factors. We then show how a quantified recruitment niche framework can serve as the foundation to address three major restoration challenges: (1) designing forward-looking seed mixes that increase resilience to future climate and disturbance, (2) accounting for natural recovery in SBR planning, and (3) applying precision seeding practices to maximize restoration success. Finally, we demonstrate these ideas with existing data and discuss key challenges to adoption in SBR practice. While the ideas in this framework are based in ecological theory, they will require substantial testing and refinement by scientists engaged in SBR efforts. If this framework is integrated into research agendas, we believe it has the potential to unify and advance diverse elements of seed-based restoration ecology and improve restoration outcomes.