Grassland communities are increasingly recognized as disturbance-dependent ecosystems, yet there are few replicated, multi-site studies documenting vegetation responses to varying frequencies and types of grassland disturbance. Even so, land managers frequently manipulate disturbance regimes in an attempt to favour native grassland plants over exotic species. We conducted a factorial experiment testing three frequencies of clipping combined with litter accumulation, litter removal, and soil disturbance within the highly threatened California coastal prairie plant community. We monitored the response of native/exotic, grass/forb plant guilds once a year for four years. More frequent clipping reduced cover of exotic grasses and favoured exotic forbs, whereas native species were largely unaffected by clipping frequency. Litter accumulation, litter removal, and soil disturbance did not affect vegetation composition. Effects of litter accumulation may take longer than our experiment allowed, and soil disturbance due to our treatments was not sufficiently strong to show consistent effects relative to mammalian soil disturbance. Treatment response of some plant guilds differed among sites, highlighting the importance of replicating experiments at several sites before recommending conservation management practices.
Abbreviation: UCSC = University of California, Santa Cruz.
Nomenclature: Hickman (1993).