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Title: Where should they come from? Where should they go? Several measures of seed source locality fail to predict plant establishment in early prairie restorations

During the “decade on restoration,” we must understand how to reliably re‐establish native plant populations. When establishing populations through seed addition, practitioners often prioritize obtaining seed from locations geographically near the restoration site (i.e. “local seed sourcing”). They are assumed to be under similar environmental conditions to the restoration site and should establish more robust plant populations and preserve local biotic interactions better than seeds sourced from further away. However, this assumption remains virtually untested in realistic restoration settings and the importance of seed sourcing, relative to other factors such as seeding rate and management regimes, is unclear.

To determine if seed sourcing decision impacts plant establishment, abundance and phenology, we developed a partnership between university‐researchers and a native seed producer that kept records on where their seed was sourced from and where it was planted. At each site, we recorded the abundance and phenological stage of five commonly used tallgrass prairie restoration species seeded at 24 sites undergoing restoration across Michigan. We considered two measures of seed source locality: geographic distance (seeds were sourced from locations 6–750 km away from their respective restoration sites) and environmental distance. We also obtained data on the seeding rate and post‐seeding management at each site.

We found that no measure of seed source locality predicted the likelihood of plant establishment or abundance at restoration sites. However, sites sown with seed from further away, or from cooler and wetter climates, had a greater proportion of flowering individuals earlier in the season. Finally, sites with higher seeding rates had greater plant abundance, and post‐seeding management of the restoration site increased the likelihood a species would establish by 36%.

Overall, these results support that seed sourcing decisions did not impact plant establishment or abundance in our system. However, using less‐local seed sources may alter flowering phenology.

Our results suggest that tallgrass prairie restoration efforts should prioritize higher seeding rates, post‐seeding management, and might expand the region seed sources are considered “local”, though this may impact flowering phenology. Future research leveraging native seed producer records can help answer critical questions about restoration seed sourcing.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecological Solutions and Evidence
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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