Date of Award:

5-2010

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Peter B. Adler

Abstract

Pseudoroegneria spicata and Elymus wawawaiensis are two native perennial bunchgrasses of North America's Intermountain West. Frequent drought, past overgrazing practices, subsequent weed invasions, and increased wildfire frequency have combined to severely degrade natural landscapes in the region, leading to a decline in the abundance of native vegetation. Being formerly widespread throughout the region, P. spicata is a favorite for restoration purposes in the Intermountain West. Elymus wawawaiensis, which occupies a more restricted distribution in the Intermountain West, is often used as a restoration surrogate for P. spicata. However, since most restoration sites are outside the native range of E. wawawaiensis and as the use of native plant material may be more desirable than a surrogate, the use of E. wawawaiensis as a restoration plant material has been somewhat controversial. The main goal of my research was to identify plant materials of these species with superior seedling growth, drought tolerance, and defoliation tolerance, traits that may contribute to enhanced ecological function in restored rangeland plant communities.

I conducted a growth-chamber study to evaluate morphological and growth-related traits of germinating seedlings of these two species. My study suggested that, while the two bunchgrasses are similar in many ways, they display fundamentally different strategies at the very-young seedling stage. While P. spicata exhibited greater shoot and root biomass to enhance establishment, E. wawawaiensis displayed high specific leaf area (SLA) and specific root length (SRL), two traits commonly associated with faster growth.

According to the eco-physiology literature, plants with greater stress tolerance display lesser growth potential. However, my greenhouse study showed that E. wawawaiensis was relatively more drought tolerant than P. spicata, despite higher expression of growth-related traits, e.g., SLA and SRL. While the two species displayed similar water use efficiency when water was abundant, E. wawawaiensis was also more efficient in its water use when drought stress was imposed.

In a field study, I found E. wawawaiensis to be twice as defoliation tolerant as P. spicata. This study showed that P. spicata is typically more productive in the absence of defoliation, but E. wawawaiensis was more productive after defoliation due to its superior ability to recover and hence is a better candidate for rangelands that will be grazed.

Hence, my study showed that E. wawawaiensis, despite being regarded as a surrogate for P. spicata, exhibits superior seedling establishment, drought tolerance, and defoliation tolerance. Therefore, E. wawawaiensis has advantages as a restoration species for the Intermountain West.

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