Applicability of landscape and island biogeography theory to restoration of riparian understorey plants.
Ecosystem recovery is influenced by processes at different spatial scales, yet land managers lack specific predictions on the relative importance of such processes that might guide management decisions. We tested whether ideas from landscape ecology (local vs. landscape scales) and island biogeography theory (patch size and isolation) predict restoration success for understorey plant communities in a highly fragmented riparian landscape, in an effort to provide guidance on how to allocate scarce restoration resources. We sampled naturally colonizing riparian forest understorey plant communities in 15 riparian forests restored by planting native woody species along a 150-km stretch of the Sacramento River in central California. We analysed native and exotic understorey species richness and cover as a function of biotic and abiotic local and landscape variables. Cover and species richness of exotic understorey plants decreased strongly with increasing overstorey cover, and were lower in quadrats closer to river base flow. Native understorey species richness and cover were negatively related to exotic cover and positively related to connectivity with remnant forest. Cover of native wind-dispersed species was best explained by higher percentage forest cover surrounding a site within a 1000-m buffer, whereas cover of native water-dispersed species was higher closer to the river. Neither patch size nor time since restoration explained a significant amount of native or exotic species richness or cover. Synthesis and applications. Local factors explained more of the variance in understorey plant communities, but much of the variance remained unexplained. Our results provide weak support for the predictions of island biogeography theory and the importance of landscape-scale variables. These theories did not have strong predictive power in this applied restoration context at this temporal scale. Given limited resources, efforts to restore understorey plant communities in this highly fragmented system should focus on local-scale restoration methodologies, such as increasing cover of native overstorey species and reducing cover of exotic plants.