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Am J Bot. 2001 Sep;88(9):1634-42.

Temporal vegetation dynamics and recolonization mechanisms on different-sized soil disturbances in tallgrass prairie.

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Division of Biology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas 66506 USA.


Assessing the various mechanisms by which plants revegetate disturbances is important for understanding the effects of disturbances on plant population dynamics, plant community structure, community assembly processes, and ecosystem function. We initiated a 2-yr experiment examining temporal vegetation dynamics and mechanisms of recolonization on different-sized soil disturbances created to simulate pocket gopher mounds in North American tallgrass prairie. Treatments were designed to assess potential contributions of the seed rain, soil seed bank, clonal propagation from the edges of a soil mound, and regrowth of buried plants. Small mounds were more rapidly recolonized than large mounds. Vegetative regrowth strategies were the dominant recolonization mechanisms, while the seed rain was considerably less important in maintaining the diversity of forbs and annuals than previously believed. All recolonization mechanisms influenced plant succession, but stem densities and plant mass on soil mounds remained significantly lower than undisturbed controls after two growing seasons. Because natural pocket gopher mounds are indistinguishable from undisturbed areas after two seasons, these results suggest that multiple modes of recruitment concurrently, albeit differentially, contribute to the recolonization of soil disturbances and influence tallgrass prairie plant community structure and successional dynamics.

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