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Life history and population size variability in a relict plant. Different routes towards long-term persistence


María B. García, Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología (CSIC), Apdo 202, 50080 Zaragoza, Spain. E-mail:


A central tenet of conservation biology is that population size affects the persistence of populations. However, many narrow endemic species combine small population ranges and sizes with long persistence, thereby challenging this tenet. I examined the performance of three different-sized populations of Petrocoptis pseudoviscosa (Caryophyllaceae), a palaeoendemic rupicolous herb distributed along a small valley in the Spanish Pyrenees. Reproductive and demographic parameters were recorded over 6 years, and deterministic and stochastic matrix models were constructed to explore population dynamics and extinction risk. Populations differed greatly in structure, fecundity, recruitment, survival rate, and life span. Strong differentiation in life-history parameters and their temporal variability resulted in differential population vulnerability under current conditions and simulated global changes such as habitat fragmentation or higher climatic fluctuations. This study provides insights into the capacity of narrow endemics to survive both at extreme environmental conditions and at small population sizes. When dealing with species conservation, the population size–extinction risk relationship may be too simplistic for ancient, ecologically restricted organisms, and some knowledge of life history may be most important to assess their future.