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Western North American Naturalist






Brigham Young University * Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum

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Despite the critical need to improve degraded herbaceous understory conditions in many semiarid ecosystems, the influence of soil properties on seedling emergence of species seeded in shrubland plant communities is largely unexplored. We evaluated emergence patterns of 6 restoration species in soils from wyomingensis (i.e., Wyoming big sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis [Beetle & A. Young] S.L. Welsh) and vaseyana (i.e., mountain big sagebrush, A. t. ssp. vaseyana [Rydb.] Beetle) plant communities that differed in soil texture, soil organic matter content, and soil water-holding capacity. We conducted 2 separate experiments that regularly wetted soils to standardized soil water potentials (i.e., field capacity; −0.03 MPa) and allowed differences in evaporation to create distinct wet-dry watering pattern cycles over a 26–29 d period. Our objectives were to compare soil attributes of wyomingensis and vaseyana soils, evaluate whether emergence patterns of restoration species vary within these soils, and determine how these patterns are altered by soil water-content levels. We found differences in soil texture and organic matter between soils and thus soil water-holding capacity: finer-textured vaseyana soils held roughly twofold more water than coarse-textured wyomingensis soils. Seeds in vaseyana soils were exposed to fewer wet-dry cycles compared to wyomingensis soils because of the greater capacity of vaseyana soils to retain water. Restoration species also collectively exhibited greater emergence in vaseyana soils than in wyomingensis soils, yet emergence patterns were vastly different among species, and differences between soils became more pronounced under low soil water for only 2 species. We conclude that the manner in which soils and water uniquely influenced emergence patterns provides new insights into species suitability for restoration sites and how inherent soil differences may constrain seeding success.