Multiscale metrics differentiate among tallgrass prairie restorations and remnant ecosystems along a restorative continuum
AbstractMost grassland restorations continue to fall short of achieving diversity levels found in reference ecosystems due primarily to establishment methods and species pool limits, and a diversity of metrics may be needed to assess how different restoration methods compare to reference sites. We addressed the extent to which 17 Midwest North American grassland reference systems and 18 restorations represent a compositional gradient, how hierarchical alpha, beta, and gamma diversity vary across this gradient, and how reference ecosystems and restorations differ in functional group diversity. Hierarchical cluster analysis separated reference and restoration sites groups based on alpha and gamma scales. Both were significantly correlated with species richness gradients at nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordination axes and indicator species. Most metrics were significantly correlated, and reference sites had significantly greater diversity than restorations at multiple scales. Reference sites also differed due to the absence of a subset of species from sites with disturbance history and restorations differed in response to restoration methods. Restorations using repeated establishment events from larger species pools achieved reference site alpha diversity and had greater representation of species that characterize undisturbed reference sites. Restorations using a single establishment event resembled disturbed reference sites. However, all restorations represented a subset of reference sites, including functional group diversity. As a result, they fail to conserve rare species that occur among reference sites and may lack temporal stability. Representation of rare species among restorations would help meet regional conservation needs without increasing alpha diversity.