Toward improving pollinator habitat: reconstructing prairies with high forb diversity.
Reconstructed prairies can provide habitat for pollinating insects, an important ecosystem service. To optimize reconstructions for pollinators, goals may include enhancing flowering plant cover and richness and increasing bloom availability early and late in the growing season. Resistance to invasive exotic species must also be a goal in any reconstruction, but it is unclear how increasing forb richness and dominance may affect susceptibility to invasion. We compared planted forb richness and cover, cover of planted grasses, and persistence of exotic species 10 y post-planting of reconstructions with 58 species (extra-high richness), 34 species (high), 20 species (medium), and 10 species (low) planted at the same time in the same fields, and using the same methods and overall seeding rate at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, USA. Planted forb richness and cover were higher and planted warm-season, but not cool-season, grass cover was lower in the extra-high richness plots. Mean Coefficient of Conservatism was higher and there was less cover of exotic forbs in the extra-high richness plots. Cover of exotic cool-season grasses was greater in the extra-high richness plots than in the lower-richness plots and this trend was still increasing at the last sample date. Our results are encouraging in that we increased cover of pollinator-friendly habitat, but invasive grasses are a concern as they may reduce forb cover and opportunities for ground-nesting bees in the long term.