Importance of Species Diversity in the Revegetation of Alberta’s Northern Fescue Prairies

Jay Woosaree
Rafael Otfinowski
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Restoration of grassland ecosystems is critical to the provision of ecosystem
services, however, legacies of historic disturbances pose a challenge to grassland
restoration. In the northern Great Plains of North America, continued fragmentation and
disturbance of northern fescue prairies has prompted more stringent criteria to regulate the
revegetation of native prairies disturbed by industrial activities. Here, we evaluate methods
of revegetating northern fescue prairies, disturbed by energy development, and test the
hypothesis that higher richness of species seeded within disturbed areas improves the
structure, diversity, and composition of revegetated communities. Our results demonstrate
that disturbed northern fescue prairies are able to recover their structural elements,
including vegetative and ground cover and plant litter, irrespective of the number of
species in the seed mixes, even though revegetated areas remained similar in all measures
of community diversity. Despite this, revegetated areas remained compositionally different
from adjacent native prairies, 7 years following seeding treatments. Based on our observations, the persistent differences in the species composition of disturbed and undisturbed
prairies highlight that all efforts should be practiced to minimize the scale of disturbance of
northern fescue prairies through energy development.