Soil amendment interacts with invasive grass and drought to influence in aridland restoration

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Water-holding soil amendments such as super-absorbent polymer (SAP) may improve native species establishment in restoration but may also interact with precipitation or invasive species such as Bromus tectorum L. to influence revegetation outcomes.We implemented an experiment at two sites in Colorado, U.S.A., in which we investigated the interactions of drought (66% reduction of ambient rainfall), B. tectorum seed addition (BRTE, 465 seeds/m2), and SAP soil amendment (25 g/m2) on initial plant establishment and 3-year aboveground and belowground biomass and allocation. At one site, SAP resulted in higher native seeded species establishment but only with ambient precipitation. However, by the third year, we detected no SAP effects on native seeded species biomass. Treatments interacted to influence aboveground and belowground biomass and allocation differently. At one site, a SAP × precipitation interaction resulted in lower belowground biomass in plots with SAP and drought (61.7±7.3 g/m2) than plots with drought alone (91.6±18.1 g/m2). At the other site, a SAP × BRTE interaction resulted in higher belowground biomass in plots with SAP and BRTE (56.6±11.2 g/m2) than BRTE alone (35.0±3.7 g/m2). These patternswere not reflected in aboveground biomass. SAP should be used with caution in aridland restoration because initial positive effects may not translate to long-term benefits, SAP may uniquely influence aboveground versus belowground biomass, and SAP can interact with environmental variables to impact developing plant communities in positive and negative ways.

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