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Data from: Dispersal and establishment limitation slows plant community recovery in post-agricultural longleaf pine savannas

Citation

Turley, Nash E.; Orrock, John L.; Ledvina, Joseph A.; Brudvig, Lars A. (2018), Data from: Dispersal and establishment limitation slows plant community recovery in post-agricultural longleaf pine savannas, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.9g785

Abstract

Abandoned agricultural lands often have distinct plant communities from areas with no history of agriculture because plant species fail to recolonize. This may be due to dispersal limitation from a lack of seeds, or establishment limitation because of unsuitable environmental conditions. However, few experiments have directly tested how restoration activities may overcome these limitations. We studied longleaf pine savannas in South Carolina abandoned from agriculture >60 years ago that were immediately adjacent to remnant habitats (areas with no history of agriculture). Using 27 sites, we conducted a factorial experiment that sowed seeds of 12 species indicative of remnant communities and conducted restoration thinning of overstorey trees in half of 126, 1-ha patches to mimic canopy density of natural savannas. We also established vegetation transects to examine if restoration promotes spread of remnant species into post-agricultural areas. We found strong evidence for dispersal limitation in post-agricultural areas as over 99% of the occurrences of our focal species were in seed addition plots. Seed additions increased total species richness by 27%. Restoration thinning increased establishment in seed addition plots (measured as richness of sown species) by 126% and increased total richness by 88%. Restoration thinning also increased seed production in remnant habitats by an average of 6506% across our focal species. However, after 4 years, restoration thinning did not facilitate the natural spread of remnant species into adjacent post-agricultural sites. Synthesis and applications. We show that both dispersal and establishment limitation are key factors causing some plant species to be absent from post-agricultural sites. Dense canopy conditions limit seed production in remnant habitats and reduce establishment in post agricultural areas. Restoration thinning helps overcome these limitations and should facilitate the natural spread of species from remnant habitats but natural recovery may still be slow. Our results suggest that accelerating the recovery of post-agricultural habitats will require active restoration that reduces dispersal limitation (seed additions) and reinstates appropriate ecological conditions.

Usage Notes

Location

Savannah River Site
USA
Aiken County
atlantic coastal plain
South Carolina
Barnwell County