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Drought tolerance in two perennial bunchgrasses used for restoration in the Intermountain West, USA

Authors

Abstract

An ideal restoration species for the semi-arid Intermountain West, USA would be one that grows rapidly when resources are abundant in the spring, yet tolerates summer’s drought. We compared two perennial C 3, Triticeae Intermountain-native bunchgrasses, the widely occurring Pseudoroegneria spicata and the much less widespread Elymus wawawaiensis , commonly used as a restoration surrogate for P. spicata . Specifically, we evaluated seedlings of multiple populations of each species for biomass production, water use, and morphological and physiological traits that might relate to drought tolerance under three watering frequencies (WFs) in a greenhouse. Shoot biomass of E. wawawaiensis exceeded that of P. spicata regardless of WF. At low WF, E. wawawaiensis displayed 38% greater shoot biomass, 80% greater specific leaf area (SLA), and 32% greater precipitation use efficiency (PUE). One E. wawawaiensis population, E-46, displayed particularly high root biomass and water consumption at high WF. We suggest that such a plant material could be especially effective for restoration of Intermountain rangelands by preempting early-season weeds for spring moisture and also achieving high PUE. Our data explain how E. wawawaiensis has been so successful as a restoration surrogate for P. spicata and highlight the importance of measuring functional traits such as PUE and SLA when characterizing restoration plant materials.

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Journal

Plant EcologySpringer Journals

Published: Mar 1, 2011

DOI: 10.1007/s11258-010-9837-3

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