Variation in Timing of Planting Influences Bluebunch Wheatgrass Demography in an Arid System

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Establishing perennial grasses from seed in postdisturbance Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis Welsh) communities is often unsuccessful, due in part to a lack of knowledge of the seedling ecology of perennial grasses. We examined the influence of planting timing on germination and seedling demography of bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata [Pursh] A. Love) in the northern Great Basin. In 2008 (year 1) and 2009 (year 2) we planted seeds monthly, September-December, in 1-m2 plots (500 seeds per plot) using a randomized block design with five replications. Germination timing was indexed using seed bags placed adjacent to 1-m2 plots and retrieved at 2-wk intervals in fall and 1-mo intervals in spring. Seedlings were marked in March-June of the year following planting; seedlings alive in July were considered initially established. Planting in September and October had up to 80% germination prior to winter, whereas December plantings germinated mainly in spring and at reduced rates (15-35%). Seeds planted in September and October emerged approximately a month earlier than November-December plantings. The percentage of germinated seeds that emerged was highest for September-October plantings but the percentage of emergent seeds surviving to the end of the first growing season was highest for later plantings. Final seedling density was lowest for November planting in year 1 and highest for September and October planting in year 2. Our data indicate that timing of and performance at critical stages of seedling development were affected by planting month. We suggest that it may be possible to use emerging technologies (e.g., seed coatings or germplasm manipulations) to produce variable chronologies of seedling development with single plantings and allow managers to exploit multiple temporal windows of opportunity for seedling establishment.

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