Monique Smith, PHD candidate from the School of Biological Sciences for the Department of Ecology & Environmental Science Seminar Series will be presenting a seminar on understanding of the mechanisms behind restoring old-fields back into native grasslands.
Title: Improving restoration outcomes for native grasslands: the importance of below-ground processes
When: Friday 28th April 2017
Where: Horace Lamb Lecture Theatre 1022
This is the story of how I started my PhD with grand plans to solve the complexities of successful restoration, leading to practical outcomes for restoration practitioners, and how this has led me to become fascinated by the ability of plants to interact with soil microbes and how these changes lead to complex ecological dynamics. The overall aim of my PhD is to improve our understanding of the mechanisms behind restoring old-fields back into native grasslands.
Following a field trial, where we found that reducing soil nutrients as well as removing the above ground biomass of weeds was important for successful native establishment, we began to look below ground in order to address other questions. For example, are there planting configurations that allow native plants to use resources in the soil, such as nutrients and water, more efficiently so that there are less available for exotic plants to exploit? We found that planting at high densities was the best way to achieve this, most likely due to fewer resources available for invaders (niche saturation). Looking below-ground led us to the importance of soil microbes for plant growth and establishment, an area mostly overlooked in restoration practices.
We set up two glasshouse experiments to determine whether changes in the soil resulting from previous use as agricultural land (biological legacies) hinder native plant establishment and allow exotic plants to dominate. We showed that native grasses performed better in the presence of soil microbes from remnant grassland, however these microbial effects were heavily influenced by the nutrient availability in the soil.
My thesis is still a work-in-progress, but my results so far indicate that we need to look below-ground so we can begin to unpick the complex relationships between plants and their soil microbial counterparts. I see this as a key to successful and sustainable restoration outcomes in grassland habitats.