Functional roles of remnant plant populations in communities and ecosystems

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Abstract

A hypothesis is suggested for functional roles of remnant plant populations in communities and ecosystems. A remnant population is capable of persistence during extended time periods, despite a negative population growth rate, due to long-lived life stages and life-cycles, including loops that allow population persistence without completion of the whole life cycle. A list of critera is suggested to help identification of remnant plant populations. Several community and ecosystem features may result from the presence of remnant plant populations. Apart from increasing community and ecosystem resilience just by being present, remnant populations may contribute to resilience through enhancing colonization by other plant species, by providing a persistent habitat for assemblages of animals and microorganisms, and by reducing variation in nutrient cycling. It is suggested that the common ability of plants to develop remnant populations is a contributing factor to ecosystem stability. Remnant populations are important for the capacity of ecosystems to cope with the present-day impact caused by human society, and their occurrence should be recognized in surveys of threatened plant species and communities.

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