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We examined the effects of intraspecific and interspecific competition on demographic processes in the perennial herb Sanicula europaea by manipulating the density of neighbouring plants. We followed the response in terms of survival, growth and reproduction and in terms of seedling recruitment. The demographic data from all phases of the life cycle enabled us to assess also the overall effects of treatments on population growth rate (λ) by transition matrix models. We also decomposed the differences in λ between control and treatments, using life table response experiments (LTRE). To study the effects of competition on recruitment in more detail and to evaluate the role of seed availability, we sowed seeds at different densities with or without vegetation removal.

Vegetative growth and flowering frequency of established individuals was not significantly affected by removal treatments, which suggest no, or a delayed response to released competition. Neighbour removal had no effect on seedling emergence but enhanced recruitment through a higher seedling survival. Conspecific and simultaneous conspecific and heterospecific removal of plants led to an increase in population growth rate (λ), whereas heterospecific removal alone led to a decrease. Emergence of seedlings and fate of vegetative established individuals contributed most to differences in λ between the control and the different treatments. Seed addition enhanced seedling emergence but, as seedling and juvenile survival were density dependent, densities of established individuals appear not to be seed limited.

In S. europaea removal treatments had different effects on established individuals and recruitment. This suggests that studies quantifying the effects of competition over the entire life cycle and performed in a natural environment are necessary to assess the importance of competition in perennial plant populations.