No place like home: using seed zones to improve restoration of native grasses in the West.
Seed zones and seed transfer guidelines describe where plants are most likely to thrive. Scientists with the Forest Service and Agricultural Research Service undertook a 9-year project to build empirical seed zones for bluebunch wheatgrass, a foundational native grass throughout the West. The research will help the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management accelerate restoration of native grasses and combat invasive species such as cheatgrass. Scientists documented variation in bluebunch populations, looking particularly at traits important for adaptation to drought and cold. Forest Service scientists also used high-resolution climate data to develop generalized provisional seed zones for a host of important native plant species. Knowledge of geographic variation in adaptive traits and the development of seed transfer guidelines can help resource managers select plant material that may be expected to adapt well to future climates. These guidelines are critical to efforts to restore native grasses to the inland Pacific Northwest and Great Basin. Empirical seed zones are helping to support a recently renewed federal commitment to coordinate efforts to prioritize conservation of native plants across land-management agencies.