Effects of population size and isolation on reproductive output in Aquilegia canadensis (Ranunculaceae)


  • Katherine Mavraganis,

  • Christopher G. Eckert

K. Mavraganis and C. G. Eckert (correspondence), Dept of Biology, Queen's Univ., Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6 (eckertc@biology.queensu.ca).


It is generally expected that small, isolated populations will suffer reduced fitness due to inbreeding, yet few studies have investigated the relation between population characteristics, inbreeding and fitness. Among Ontario populations of the short-lived, perennial plant Aquilegia canadensis, large populations (N>90 flowering plants) outcross twice as frequently as small populations (N=30–40), and inbreeding depression is extremely strong. We tested the prediction that reproductive output, a major component of population fitness, should be positively associated with population size. Data from a survey of 33 populations located on small islands in the St. Lawrence River, Canada and 23 populations on adjacent mainland areas supported this prediction. Population size correlated positively with reproductive output, measured as the number of seedlings produced per plant in 1995 (average r=+0.39 pooled P=0.019), and the number of fruits per plant in 1997 (r=+0.30, P=0.056). We also tested the prediction that fitness should decline with increasing spatial isolation between populations by measuring the distance separating all island populations. However, reproductive output did not correlate with isolation in either year. We compared island and mainland populations to test the prediction that reproductive output should be lower for populations on small islands than those occurring in more continuous mainland habitat. In contrast to our predictions, island populations exhibited, if anything, higher reproductive output than mainland populations. We also found no support for the prediction that the positive association between population size and reproductive output should be stronger for presumably isolated populations on small islands than for those on adjacent mainland areas. While the mechanisms underlying the association between population size and fitness are impossible to identify with correlations alone, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that inbreeding can significantly reduce the fitness of natural populations.