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Keywords:

  • Breeding system;
  • habitat fragmentation;
  • inbreeding depression;
  • pollen limitation;
  • pollen–ovule ratio

Abstract

Habitat fragmentation and reduction of population size have been found to negatively affect plant reproduction in ‘new rare’ species that were formerly common. This has been attributed primarily to effects of increased inbreeding but also to pollen limitation. In contrast, little is known about the reproduction of ‘old rare’ species that are naturally restricted to small and isolated habitats and thus may have developed strategies to cope with long-term isolation and small population size. Here we study the effects of pollen source and quantity on reproduction of the ‘old rare’ bumblebee-pollinated herb, Astragalus exscapus. In two populations of this species, we tested for pollen autodeposition, inbreeding depression and outbreeding depression. Caged plants were left unpollinated or were pollinated with pollen from the same plant, from the same population or from a distant population (50 km). Additionally, we tested for pollen limitation by pollen supplementation in four populations of different size and density. In the absence of pollinators, plants did not produce seed whereas self-pollinated plants did. This indicates a self-compatible breeding system dependent on insect pollination. Both self-pollination and, in one of the two populations, cross-pollination with pollen from plants from the distant population resulted in a lower number of seeds per flower than cross-pollination with pollen from plants from the resident population, indicating inbreeding and outbreeding depression. Pollen addition enhanced fruit set and number of seeds per flower in three of the four populations, indicating pollen limitation. The degree of pollen limitation was lowest in the smallest but densest population. Our results suggest that, similar to ‘new rare’ plant species, also ‘old rare’ species may be at risk of inbreeding depression and pollen limitation.