Small vertebrate granivores reduce seedling emergence in native tallgrass prairie restoration
seed predation, seed recovery, seedling emergence, vertebrate granivores
High seed cost and low rates of establishment make tallgrass prairie restorations challenging and expensive endeavors. Typical seedling emergence rates in prairie restorations are approximately 10% and the causes of seed mortality are poorly understood. In this study, we examined the impact of small vertebrate granivores on prairie restoration by comparison of seedling emergence in open (sham) versus closed exclosures at three newly restored sites. To assess other causes of seed loss, we also tracked seed fates at one prairie restoration site. We coated seeds of four prairie species with fluorescent dye, placed them under closed exclosures, and monitored their fate (emerging seedling, partially germinated, nongerminated/viable, and nongerminated/nonviable) over a 5-month period. On average, 9.6 more seedlings/m2 emerged in the closed than the opened exclosures, suggesting that small vertebrate granivores reduce seedling emergence in prairie restoration. Granivores influenced the composition of the emerging community but did not preferentially consume large-seeded species. In the seed-tracking experiment, we found that greater than 70% of seeds were lost within 30 days of sowing, that seed recovery and viability both decreased with time in soil, and that seed fates differed between species. Collectively, our results indicate that small vertebrate granivores are an important cause of seed loss in prairie restoration, but unidentified belowground (e.g. fungal decomposition, invertebrate predation) and environmental (wind, rain) factors account for a greater proportion of total seed loss. Until these causes of seed loss are better understood, high seed costs will persist and continue to impede prairie restoration.
Original Publication Date
DOI of published version
UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa
Pellish, Carmen A.; Sherrard, Mark E.; Leytem, Paige A.; and Jackson, Laura L., "Small vertebrate granivores reduce seedling emergence in native tallgrass prairie restoration" (2018). Faculty Publications. 738.