- 1Habitat fragmentation, which reduces the size and increases the isolation of populations, is a major threat to biodiversity. For Phyteuma spicatum, a self-incompatible, rare understorey herb in deciduous forests of north-western Germany, I tested the hypotheses that: (i) fitness (in terms of reproductive success) is reduced in small or isolated populations, (ii) reproduction in small populations is reduced by pollen limitation and (iii) genetic effects cause fitness reductions in small populations.
- 2I compared the reproductive success of plants of Phyteuma in 14 populations of different size and degree of isolation. Seed production was, as predicted, positively related to population size but was also influenced by plant size, although not by population isolation, density or habitat quality.
- 3I performed supplemental hand-pollinations in 10 of the 14 populations using pollen from the same population (test for pollen quantity) or from another large population (pollen quality). The proportional difference in seed production between hand-pollinated plants and open-pollinated controls increased with decreasing population size, indicating pollinator limitation of reproduction in small populations. There was no difference between the two hand-pollination treatments, suggesting that a sufficient number of cross-compatible mates was available even in the smallest populations.
- 4Progeny from the 14 populations were grown for 32 weeks in a common environment. There was no effect of population size on germination, but final seedling survival was positively related to population size, and this relationship was more pronounced in the glasshouse than under more favourable growing conditions in a common garden. Genetic effects may thus reduce fitness (here measured in terms of survival) in plants from small populations, making them more susceptible to environmental stress.
- 5The results suggest that both reproduction and offspring performance may be reduced in small populations even of long-lived species such as Phyteuma spicatum. Different processes, such as pollen limitation and genetic deterioration, may interact and affect local population dynamics and the persistence of species in fragmented landscapes.