You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Techniques to Ensure the Right Sagebrush Seed is Put in the Right Place

Photo of A sagebrush landscape that is becoming increasingly rare due to disturbance and invasive plants. Nolan E. Preece.A sagebrush landscape that is becoming increasingly rare due to disturbance and invasive plants. Nolan E. Preece.Snapshot : Wildfire, invasive weeds, and climate change are threatening sagebrush ecosystems including the flora and fauna that are dependent upon them. Both Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management policies dictate that successful restoration requires putting the right seed in the right place. Genetic research shows that some subspecies of big sagebrush can be differentiated based on seed weight. With this knowledge, Forest Service scientists developed a seed testing protocol and that has been adopted as a seed certification step in the bureau’s seed procurement contract.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Richardson, Bryce A.  
Research Location : Western United States
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1049


Plants are adapted to their local and regional environments. Recognizing this adaptive variation and the environmental causes are key to determine how seed or seedling can be moved on the landscape. Before these seed movement strategies can be implemented, it is also important to identify closely related taxa, since they also reflect adaptive divergence. Big sagebrush is a good example. Big sagebrush is composed of three subspecies that occupy different environments. These subspecies can co-occur in some areas, while in other areas they do not, depending on the heterogeneity of the environment. Moreover, subspecies can sometimes be difficult to visually differentiate in the field. These properties of big sagebrush make assessments of the subspecies composition of commercial seed collections challenging for both seed collectors and certifiers. Forest Service research evaluated seed weight variation to show that: (1) environment has very little influence on seed weight, (2) Wyoming and basin big sagebrush subspecies have significantly different seed weights, and (3) seed weight can be used as a diagnostic to assess the proportion of the two subspecies in a seed collection. This research provides land managers with information to put the seed in the right place.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Stephanie Carlson, Rocky Mountain Research Station