We analyzed demographic data of a long-lived high mountain Mediterranean plant, Silene ciliata Poirret, over a 4-yr period. Selected populations were located at contrasting altitudes at the southernmost margin of the species (Sierra de Guadarrama, central Spain), representing a local altitudinal range at the rear edge of its overall distribution. Previous studies have suggested that differences in the reproduction and performance of individuals at upper and lower populations may have implications for population dynamics. We used matrix analysis to assess their demographic behaviour. Life Table Response Experiments were used to identify the life history stages most relevant to observed differences in population growth rates between populations.
Transition matrices revealed great spatio-temporal variability in demographic traits. Seedling recruitment was very low each year in all populations. Maximum longevity of S. ciliata individuals in the lower peripheral population was much lower compared to the central population, probably due to higher adult mortality. Population growth rate (λ) showed a declining trend at the lowest altitude and a relatively stable trend at the central population. Long-term simulations also indicated a great risk of quasi-extinction at the lowest population. Our results suggest that rear edge populations of S. ciliata at Sierra de Guadarrama are suffering demographic processes that may be leading to the latitudinal displacement of the species' range.