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Demographic consequences for a threatened plant after the loss of its only disperser. Habitat suitability buffers limited seed dispersal

Authors

  • J. Rodríguez-Pérez,

    1. Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avançats – IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB), Miquel Marquès 21, ES-07190 Esporles, Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
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  • A. Traveset

    1. Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avançats – IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB), Miquel Marquès 21, ES-07190 Esporles, Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
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J. Rodríguez-Pérez, Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avançats – IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB), Miquel Marquès 21, ES-07190 Esporles, Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain. E-mail: jvr.rodriguez@gmail.com

Abstract

Seed dispersal links the end of a plant's reproductive cycle with the establishment of new recruits. Dispersal over short distances may lead to the local aggregation of individuals, slower population growth and, ultimately, to lower population densities. In this study, we analyse the demographic consequences for the shrub Daphne rodriguezii after the loss of its only seed disperser in an island ecosystem (Menorca Island, western Mediterranean). During a period of 8–10 years, we collected demographic data from five populations, four where the disperser is extinct (disrupted) and the only one in which it still persists (undisrupted). We calculated basic deterministic variables, analysed life table response experiments (LTRE) and their covariation among demographic traits, and simulated future population vulnerability. Population growth rate (λ) was either stable or negative and independent of whether the population was disrupted or not. Current and past population dynamics were similar in the two largest populations (one being the undisrupted), which suggests that the environmental conditions allow them to be stable regardless of seed disperser presence. Variation in λ was dependent on rainfall variability and was highly influenced by stasis and growth. There also existed tradeoffs between the former life traits and fecundity, which indicate strong competition when resources are limiting (e.g. high plant aggregation due to limited seed dispersal or low rainfall), and that could ultimately affect high-elasticity demographic traits. Our study suggests that the population dynamic of D. rodriguezii is stable under the current conditions, and that where dispersal is limiting, important environmental changes (e.g. in habitat suitability and/or rainfall regime) might lead to local extinctions.

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