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We selected nine study sites, each incorporating three vegetation states: (a) fallow cropland, representing the restoration starting point, (b) planted old field (actively restored site), and (c) reference York gum (E. loxophleba) woodland. Plant species richness and cover All annual and perennial plant species were recorded in spring 2017 within each plot and identified to genus and species level where possible. Nomenclatures follow the Western Australian Herbarium (2017). A point intercept method previously demonstrated to provide objective and repeatable measures of cover (Godínez-Alvarez, Herrick, Mattocks, Toledo & Van Zee 2009; Prober, Standish & Wiehl 2011) was used to quantify cover of individual plant species, total vegetation cover and substrate types (i.e., bare ground, litter cover, plant cover). Ground cover, individual species, and canopy cover intercepting at every 2 m along four parallel, evenly spaced 50 m transects across each plot were recorded using a vertically placed dowel (8 mm wide, 2 m tall), resulting in 100 intercepting points per plot. For planted old fields, transects were placed parallel to planting rows, with two centred on rows and two centred between rows. This approximately represented the relative abundance of planted rows and non-planted inter-rows. If a species was recorded in the plot but did not intercept the dowel on any transect it was assigned 0.5 points. This method provided a measure of relative abundance (percentage cover) of plant species across the plot. To calculate species richness and cover across different life history and growth forms, species were classified into the following groups: total, native trees, native shrubs, native non – planted shrubs, native grasses, native perennial forbs, native annual forbs, exotic grasses and exotic annual forbs using the Western Australian Herbarium (2017) classification. Woody debris and leaf litter surveys Leaf-litter dry mass was estimated by collecting leaf-litter from five randomly placed 25 cm x 25 cm quadrats along two 50 m transects across each plot. Litter was stored in paper bags for transportation and then oven dried for 36 hours at 60 °C. The dried litter was weighed to 3 decimal points. Cover of fine and coarse woody debris and litter depth was estimated at every meter along two 20 m transects for each plot. Woody debris was classified by diameter. Length, max and min diameter was measured for all logs with a diameter greater than 10 cm.
We investigated recovery of soil chemical properties after restoration in semi-arid Western Australia, hypothesising that elevated nutrient concentrations would gradually decline post planting, but available phosphorus (P) concentrations would remain higher than reference conditions. We used a space-for-time substitution approach, comparing 10 planted old field plots with matched fallow cropland and reference woodlands. Sampling on planted old fields and reference woodland plots was stratified into open patches and under tree canopy to account for consistent differences between these areas. Soil samples to 10 cm depth were collected at 20 points across 30 plots. Ten samples were randomly collected and combined from locations beneath trees and a further 10 samples collected in gaps and combined, resulting in one soil sample for beneath tree canopy and another one for gap areas. Sampling occurred in autumn 2017 to capture potentially high concentrations of soil nitrate following the seasonal die-back of exotic annual plants typical of this Mediterranean-climate region. Samples were stored at 4 °C in plastic zip-lock bags until delivery to the CSBP Limited (Bibra Lake, WA) laboratories. Chemical parameters measured were plant available P (Colwell), plant available N (nitrate and ammonium), total N, plant available potassium (Colwell) and plant available sulphur (KCl 40). Lastly, electrical conductivity, pH (H2O, CaCl2), and soil texture were quantified as differences among plots could affect nutrient availability and soil chemistry. Soil available nutrients were also measured using Plant Root Simulator (PRS)TM resin probes (Western Ag Innovations, 2010, https://www.westernag.ca/inn). Probes contain anion or cation exchange membranes within a plastic stake. The membranes act as a sink for collecting nutrients and continuously absorb ions during deployment. Four anion and cation probes were placed vertically in the top 15 cm of soil at each stratification. Probes were left in the ground for three months during the growing season, from August to November 2017. This period was deemed suitable for semi-arid regions to achieve sufficient nutrient uptake but not too long to saturate probes. After removal, probes were cleaned with deionized water and sent to Western Ag Innovations (Canada) for analysis. All soil chemical analyses were conducted under laboratory conditions using standard test procedures. PRS probe nutrients are reported as micrograms/10cm2/time.