Microsite availability and establishment of native species on degraded and reclaimed sites.
Restoration of native plant communities on previously disturbed land requires the identification and modification of environmental factors that impede or restrict ecosystem succession or development. One of the key factors in successful reclamation is to ensure colonization and persistence of native species within an area. Therefore, the identification of microsite types that favour colonization by native species should improve our ability to successfully reclaim degraded areas. The objectives of this study were to (i) identify and describe microsite types that were conducive to the establishment of five native plant species (Euphrasia frigida, Galium normanii, Thymus praecox, Cerastium spp. and Rumex acetosa) on degraded and reclaimed sites in Iceland; and (ii) to determine the effects of reclamation activities that included the application of manure and inorganic fertilizer on the distribution of microsite types and seedling establishment. Reclamation sites of different ages were examined on an eroded area where the target community was a grass or shrub heath. The spatial distribution of plant establishment was not random but varied among microsite types and study sites. More seedlings than expected were found in microsite types characterized by small rocks and biological soil crusts. These may have entrapped seed and provided more soil stability and moisture than other microsite types. The cover of these microsite types varied among the study sites but the pattern of seedling establishment among the five native forbs was similar. Synthesis and applications. Practical reclamation methods are improved by identifying those factors that promote successful seedling establishment by native species. Application of fertilizer without additional seeding proved to be a simple reclamation approach that increased the availability of one favourable microsite type, enhanced the establishment of native species and subsequently allowed vegetation cover to expand. Seed of native plants may be difficult to obtain commercially, but this approach can be used on degraded land where propagules are available but recovery is slowed by soil instability or nutrient limitations.