Although crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum [L] Gaertn. & A. desertorum [Fisch. ex Link] Schult.) has been one of the most commonly seeded exotic species in the western United States, long-term successional trajectories of seeded sites are poorly characterized, especially for big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) ecosystems in the Great Basin. Interpreting successional trajectories is particularly difficult because many seeded sites were actively managed with subsequent treatments to kill sagebrush and sustain high forage productivity of crested wheatgrass plants. In addition, inherent differences in climate, topography, soils, and disturbance regimes may lead to variable vegetation structure and species composition among seeded sites. To clarify variation in successional trajectories, we measured vegetation composition, plant species diversity, ground cover, and soil properties in 38 historical crested wheatgrass seedings distributed across 146 sampling sites that lacked subsequent sagebrush treatments. The multivariate dataset was analyzed using principal components analysis to identify “defining factors” that best explained variation among sites. Variation was primarily attributed to an inverse relationship between crested wheatgrass and sagebrush abundance (R2 = 0.69; P < 0.0001) and their affinity for either silty or sandy soil textures, respectively, as well as a negative association between crested wheatgrass abundance and species diversity (R2 = 0.67; P < 0.0001). These results do not support the assumption that crested wheatgrass seedings uniformly remain in vegetation states with low diversity and poor sagebrush reestablishment over the long term (i.e., 43 – 63 yr). We suggest that a broader interpretation of plant community dynamics is needed while avoiding generalizations of how historically seeded Wyoming big sagebrush sites will respond over time.
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