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Keywords:

  • germination;
  • habitat fragmentation;
  • population size;
  • seed production;
  • site productivity;
  • wind dispersal

Summary

  • 1
    Habitat fragmentation as a result of intensification of agricultural practices decreases the population size and increases the site productivity of remnant populations of many plant species native to nutrient-poor, species-rich grasslands. Little is known about how this affects the colonization capacity of populations, which is highly important for regional species survival. We studied the effects on four wind-dispersed forbs that represent two major dispersal strategies in grasslands: Cirsium dissectum and Hypochaeris radicata, which have plumed seeds and are adapted to long-distance dispersal by wind, and Centaurea jacea and Succisa pratensis, which have plumeless seeds and are adapted to only short-distance dispersal by wind.
  • 2
    Colonization capacity decreased with decreasing population size. This was due to lower seed germination ability in all species, and a lower seed production and a narrower range of seed dispersal distances in the species with plumed seeds. Inbreeding depression is the most likely cause of this. We found no evidence for a stronger selection for reduced dispersal in smaller populations.
  • 3
    Increasing site productivity changed the colonization capacity of all species. The capacity for colonization of nearby sites increased, due to higher seed production and seed germination ability, but the capacity for colonization of distant sites decreased, due to a lower long-distance dispersal ability.
  • 4
    Seed dispersal ability and germination ability were negatively correlated in the species with plumeless seeds, but not in the species with plumed seeds. The dispersal ability of individual plumed seeds remained constant under changes in population size and site productivity. This indicates a strong selection pressure for long-distance dispersal ability in these species.
  • 5
    When habitat fragmentation results in a simultaneous decrease in population size and increase in site productivity, both the local survival probability and the colonization capacity of remnant populations of wind-dispersed grassland forbs are likely to be severely reduced. This increases regional extinction risks of the species.