Long-term, large-scale experiment reveals the effects of seed limitation, climate, and anthropogenic disturbance on restoration of plant communities in a biodiversity hotspot. Academic Article uri icon


  • Ecological restoration is essential for maintaining biodiversity in the face of dynamic, global changes in climate, human land use, and disturbance regimes. Effective restoration requires understanding bottlenecks in plant community recovery that exist today, while recognizing that these bottlenecks may relate to complex histories of environmental change. Such understanding has been a challenge because few long-term, well-replicated experiments exist to decipher the demographic processes influencing recovery for numerous species against the backdrop of multiyear variation in climate and management. We address this challenge through a long-term and geographically expansive experiment in longleaf pine savannas, an imperiled ecosystem and biodiversity hotspot in the southeastern United States. Using 48 sites at three locations spanning 480 km, the 8-y experiment manipulated initial seed arrival for 24 herbaceous plant species and presence of competitors to evaluate the impacts of climate variability and management actions (e.g., prescribed burning) on plant establishment and persistence. Adding seeds increased plant establishment of many species. Cool and wet climatic conditions, low tree density, and reduced litter depth also promoted establishment. Once established, most species persisted for the duration of the 8-y experiment. Plant traits were most predictive when tightly coupled to the process of establishment. Our results illustrate how seed additions can restore plant diversity and how interannual climatic variation affects the dynamics of plant communities across a large region. The significant effects of temperature and precipitation inform how future climate may affect restoration and conservation via large-scale changes in the fundamental processes of establishment and persistence.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

altmetric score

  • 83.13

author list (cited authors)

  • Orrock, J. L., Brudvig, L. A., Damschen, E. I., Mattingly, W. B., Cruz, J., Veldman, J. W., Hahn, P. G., & Larsen-Gray, A. L.

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Orrock, John L||Brudvig, Lars A||Damschen, Ellen I||Mattingly, W Brett||Cruz, Jennyffer||Veldman, Joseph W||Hahn, Philip G||Larsen-Gray, Angela L

publication date

  • February 2023