Reduced fecundity and offspring performance in small populations of the declining grassland plants Primula veris and Gentiana lutea


  • *Present address: Prof. Dr Diethart Matthies, Department of Biology, Plant Ecology, University of Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch Str., D-35032 Marburg, Germany.

Marc Kéry (fax 41 1 635 57 11; e-mail


1 We studied reproduction and offspring performance in relation to population size in the declining self-incompatible perennials Primula veris and Gentiana lutea. In both species, reproduction was strongly reduced in small populations, where plants produced fewer seeds per fruit and per plant. Total seed mass per plant was higher in large populations, but individual seeds were smaller, indicating a trade-off between seed number and size. Reproduction was depressed most strongly in populations consisting of less than c. 200 (P. veris) and c. 500 plants (G. lutea), respectively.

2 The inclusion of plant size (an integrated measure of habitat quality) in the statistical models did not change the relationships between fecundity and population size. Pollen limitation or inbreeding depression in small populations are therefore more likely explanations for these patterns than is habitat quality.

3 Germination rate and survival of seedlings in a common environment was not related to population size in either species, although P. veris developed into larger rosettes when seeds were derived from large populations. This suggests that inbreeding depression occurs in small populations of P. veris.

4 In a factorial fertilizer-by-competition experiment with P. veris, offspring from larger populations grew significantly larger and responded more strongly to fertilizer. For this declining species genetic deterioration as a result of habitat fragmentation may therefore aggravate the effects of environmental changes such as habitat eutrophication.

5 Our results suggest that small populations may face an increased short-term risk of extinction because of reduced reproduction, and an increased long-term risk because they are less able to respond to environmental changes.