Hydrothermal Assessment of Temporal Variability in Seedbed Microclimate

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Abstract

The microclimatic requirements for successful seedling establishment are much more restrictive than those required for adult plant survival. The purpose of the current study was to use hydrothermal germination models and a soil energy and water flux model to evaluate intra- and interannual variability in seedbed microclimate relative to potential germination response of six perennial grasses and cheatgrass. We used a 44-yr weather record to parameterize a seedbed microclimate model for estimation of hourly temperature and moisture at seeding depth for a sandy loam soil type at the Orchard Field Test Site in southwestern Ada County, Idaho. Hydrothermal germination response was measured in the laboratory for two seed lots of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.), four seed lots of bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata [Pursh] Löve), three seed lots of bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides [Raf] Swezey), and one seed lot each of Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda J. Presl.), big squirreltail (Elymus multisetus [J.G. Smith] M.E. Jones), thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus [Scribn. And J.G. Smith] Gould) and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer). Germination response models were developed to estimate potential germination rate for 13 subpopulations of each seed lot for every hour of the 44-yr simulation. Seedbed microclimate was assessed seasonally and for each day, month, and year, and germination rate-sum estimates integrated for a numerical index of relative site favorability for germination for each time period. The rate-sum favorability index showed a consistent pattern among seed lots for different years, and provides a relatively sensitive indicator of annual and seasonal variability in seedbed microclimate. This index could be used with field data to define minimum weather thresholds for successful establishment of alternative plant materials, in conjunction with weather forecast models for making restoration and fire-rehabilitation management decisions in the fall season, for evaluation of potential climate-change impacts on plant community trajectories, and in optimization schemes for selecting among alternative restoration/rehabilitation management scenarios.

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