Repeated mowing to restore remnant native grasslands invaded by nonnative annual grasses: upsides and downsides above and below ground.
California grasslands have been severely impacted by the invasion of nonnative annual grasses, which often limit restoration of this important ecosystem. In this study, we explored the use of mowing as a restoration tool for native perennial grasslands at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in southern California. We sought to evaluate if, over time, mowing would reduce nonnative annual grass cover and benefit native species, especially the native bunchgrass Stipa pulchra. We hypothesized that repeated mowing, carefully timed to target nonnative annual grasses prior to seed maturation, would reduce nonnative seed inputs into the soil and eventually lead to diminished abundance of these species. We monitored vegetation in mowed and unmowed plots for 4 years, and conducted a seed bank study after 5 years to better understand the cumulative effects of mowing on native and nonnative seed inputs. Consistent with our hypotheses, we found that mowing successfully reduced nonnative annual grass cover and benefitted some native species, including S. pulchra. However, we also found that nonnative forb species showed progressive increases in mowed plots over time. We observed similar patterns of species composition in the soil seed bank. Together, these results suggest that mowing can be used to control nonnative annual grasses and increase the abundance of native bunchgrasses, but that this method may also have the unintended consequence of increasing nonnative forb species.