Sagebrush steppe ecosystems in the western United States are characterized by harsh environmental conditions with high annual and seasonal variability in both precipitation and temperature. Environmental variability contributes to widespread failure in establishing stands of desired species on degraded and invaded landscapes. To characterize seasonal microclimatic patterns and planting date effects on restoration outcomes, we evaluated long-term simulations of seed germination response of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.), bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides [Raf] Swezey), and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer) to annual patterns of soil temperature and moisture. Extremely high annual variability in both the conditions favorable for germination and patterns of post-germination drought and thermal stress make it difficult to justify general inferences about seedbed treatment and planting date effects from individual, short-term field studies. We discuss the interpretation of individual-year and seasonal plant establishment factors and offer a mechanistic model for interpreting planting date and year effects on initial seedling establishment. Historical ranking and mechanistic descriptions of individual-year seedbed conditions may allow for expanded inferences through meta-analysis of limited-term field experiments.
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Vol. 69 • No. 2