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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2024
  2. Auge, Gabriela (Ed.)
    Abstract Plant-population recovery across large disturbance areas is often seed-limited. An understanding of seed dispersal patterns is fundamental for determining natural-regeneration potential. However, forecasting seed dispersal rates across heterogeneous landscapes remains a challenge. Our objectives were to determine (i) the landscape patterning of post-disturbance seed dispersal, and underlying sources of variation and the scale at which they operate, and (ii) how the natural seed dispersal patterns relate to a seed augmentation strategy. Vertical seed trapping experiments were replicated across 2 years and five burned and/or managed landscapes in sagebrush steppe. Multi-scale sampling and hierarchical Bayesian models were used to determine the scale of spatial variation in seed dispersal. We then integrated an empirical and mechanistic dispersal kernel for wind-dispersed species to project rates of seed dispersal and compared natural seed arrival to typical post-fire aerial seeding rates. Seeds were captured across the range of tested dispersal distances, up to a maximum distance of 26 m from seed-source plants, although dispersal to the furthest traps was variable. Seed dispersal was better explained by transect heterogeneity than by patch or site heterogeneity (transects were nested within patch within site). The number of seeds captured varied from a modelled mean of ~13 m−2 adjacent to patches of seed-producing plants, to nearly none at 10 m from patches, standardized over a 49-day period. Maximum seed dispersal distances on average were estimated to be 16 m according to a novel modelling approach using a ‘latent’ variable for dispersal distance based on seed trapping heights. Surprisingly, statistical representation of wind did not improve model fit and seed rain was not related to the large variation in total available seed of adjacent patches. The models predicted severe seed limitations were likely on typical burned areas, especially compared to the mean 95–250 seeds per m2 that previous literature suggested were required to generate sagebrush recovery. More broadly, our Bayesian data fusion approach could be applied to other cases that require quantitative estimates of long-distance seed dispersal across heterogeneous landscapes. 
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  3. Abstract

    Accurate predictions of ecological restoration outcomes are needed across the increasingly large landscapes requiring treatment following disturbances. However, observational studies often fail to account for nonrandom treatment application, which can result in invalid inference. Examining a spatiotemporally extensive management treatment involving post-fire seeding of declining sagebrush shrubs across semiarid areas of the western USA over two decades, we quantify drivers and consequences of selection biases in restoration using remotely sensed data. From following more than 1,500 wildfires, we find treatments were disproportionately applied in more stressful, degraded ecological conditions. Failure to incorporate unmeasured drivers of treatment allocation led to the conclusion that costly, widespread seedings were unsuccessful; however, after considering sources of bias, restoration positively affected sagebrush recovery. Treatment effects varied with climate, indicating prioritization criteria for interventions. Our findings revise the perspective that post-fire sagebrush seedings have been broadly unsuccessful and demonstrate how selection biases can pose substantive inferential hazards in observational studies of restoration efficacy and the development of restoration theory.

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  4. Large‐scale disturbances, such as megafires, motivate restoration at equally large extents. Measuring the survival and growth of individual plants plays a key role in current efforts to monitor restoration success. However, the scale of modern restoration (e.g., >10,000 ha) challenges measurements of demographic rates with field data. In this study, we demonstrate how unoccupied aerial system (UAS) flights can provide an efficient solution to the tradeoff of precision and spatial extent in detecting demographic rates from the air. We flew two, sequential UAS flights at two sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) common gardens to measure the survival and growth of individual plants. The accuracy of Bayesian‐optimized segmentation of individual shrub canopies was high (73–95%, depending on the year and site), and remotely sensed survival estimates were within 10% of ground‐truthed survival censuses. Stand age structure affected remotely sensed estimates of growth; growth was overestimated relative to field‐based estimates by 57% in the first garden with older stands, but agreement was high in the second garden with younger stands. Further, younger stands (similar to those just after disturbance) with shorter, smaller plants were sometimes confused with other shrub species and bunchgrasses, demonstrating a need for integrating spectral classification approaches that are increasingly available on affordable UAS platforms. The older stand had several merged canopies, which led to an underestimation of abundance but did not bias remotely sensed survival estimates. Advances in segmentation and UAS structure from motion photogrammetry will enable demographic rate measurements at management‐relevant extents.

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  5. Abstract

    Interannual variation, especially weather, is an often‐cited reason for restoration “failures”; yet its importance is difficult to experimentally isolate across broad spatiotemporal extents, due to correlations between weather and site characteristics. We examined post‐fire treatments within sagebrush‐steppe ecosystems to ask: (1) Is weather following seeding efforts a primary reason why restoration outcomes depart from predictions? and (2) Does the management‐relevance of weather differ across space and with time since treatment? Our analysis quantified range‐wide patterns of sagebrush (Artemisiaspp.) recovery, by integrating long‐term records of restoration and annual vegetation cover estimates from satellite imagery following thousands of post‐fire seeding treatments from 1984 to 2005. Across the Great Basin, sagebrush growth increased in wetter, cooler springs; however, the importance of spring weather varied with sites' long‐term climates, suggesting differing ecophysiological limitations across sagebrush's range. Incorporation of spring weather, including from the “planting year,” improved predictions of sagebrush recovery, but these advances were small compared to contributions of time‐invariant site characteristics. Given extreme weather conditions threatening this ecosystem, explicit consideration of weather could improve the allocation of management resources, such as by identifying areas requiring repeated treatments; but improved forecasts of shifting mean conditions with climate change may more significantly aid the prediction of sagebrush recovery.

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  6. Abstract

    Understanding interactions between environmental stress and genetic variation is crucial to predict the adaptive capacity of species to climate change. Leaf temperature is both a driver and a responsive indicator of plant physiological response to thermal stress, and methods to monitor it are needed. Foliar temperatures vary across leaf to canopy scales and are influenced by genetic factors, challenging efforts to map and model this critical variable. Thermal imagery collected using unoccupied aerial systems (UAS) offers an innovative way to measure thermal variation in plants across landscapes at leaf‐level resolutions. We used a UAS equipped with a thermal camera to assess temperature variation among genetically distinct populations of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), a keystone plant species that is the focus of intensive restoration efforts throughout much of western North America. We completed flights across a growing season in a sagebrush common garden to map leaf temperature relative to subspecies and cytotype, physiological phenotypes of plants, and summer heat stress. Our objectives were to (1) determine whether leaf‐level stomatal conductance corresponds with changes in crown temperature; (2) quantify genetic (i.e., subspecies and cytotype) contributions to variation in leaf and crown temperatures; and (3) identify how crown structure, solar radiation, and subspecies‐cytotype relate to leaf‐level temperature. When considered across the whole season, stomatal conductance was negatively, non‐linearly correlated with crown‐level temperature derived from UAS. Subspecies identity best explained crown‐level temperature with no difference observed between cytotypes. However, structural phenotypes and microclimate best explained leaf‐level temperature. These results show how fine‐scale thermal mapping can decouple the contribution of genetic, phenotypic, and microclimate factors on leaf temperature dynamics. As climate‐change‐induced heat stress becomes prevalent, thermal UAS represents a promising way to track plant phenotypes that emerge from gene‐by‐environment interactions.

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  7. There is an urgent need for near‐term predictions of ecological restoration outcomes despite imperfect knowledge of ecosystems. Restoration outcomes are always uncertain but integrating Bayesian modeling into the process of adaptive management allows researchers and practitioners to explicitly incorporate prior knowledge of ecosystems into future predictions. Although barriers exist, employing qualitative expert knowledge and previous case studies can help narrow the range of uncertainty in forecasts. Software and processes that allow for repeatable methodologies can help bridge the existing gap between theory and application of Bayesian methods in adaptive management.

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