Natural establishment of seedlings in desert playas with temporally variable precipitation hinges on many factors, including seed production, seed dispersal, seed entrapment, seed germination, and seedling survival. We investigated natural seed dispersal patterns and the effects of surface texture, wind barriers, resource availability (water and nutrients), and protection from herbivory on seedling establishment in a desert playa. We hypothesized that the seed rain would be consistent throughout the year and that seedling establishment would improve in resource-amended plots with barriers to wind dispersal. Contrary to our hypotheses, seed flux peaked seasonally during the winter, and fertilization had no consistent effect on seedling establishment. Seed availability for dispersal correlated with precipitation in the previous water year, whereas seedling recruitment was greatest when current-year precipitation during the spring germination and summer seedling growth periods was high. Gravel and barrier surface treatments contained more surviving seedlings than other surface treatments. Comparison with plots located outside of herbivore exclosures, however, showed that greater seedling presence in gravel plots may be due somewhat to protection from herbivory provided by the gravel, rather than simply to the greater seed-trapping quality of the gravel. With abundant seed availability, application of surface treatments, like coarse gravel, combined with increased seasonal water availability could lead to improved shrub establishment from seed in desert playas.
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Vol. 70 • No. 1