Journal Article

Population dynamics along a primary succession gradient: do alpine species fit into demographic succession theory?

Silvia Marcante, Eckart Winkler and Brigitta Erschbamer

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 7, pages 1129-1143
Published in print May 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online March 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcp047
Population dynamics along a primary succession gradient: do alpine species fit into demographic succession theory?

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  • Ecology and Conservation
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Background and Aims

Understanding processes and mechanisms governing changes in plant species along primary successions has been of major importance in ecology. However, to date hardly any studies have focused on the complete life cycle of species along a successional gradient, comparing pioneer, early and late-successional species. In this study it is hypothesized that pioneer species should initially have a population growth rate, λ, greater than one with high fecundity rates, and declining growth rates when they are replaced by late-successional species. Populations of late-successional species should also start, at the mid-successional stage (when pioneer species are declining), with growth rates greater than one and arrive at rates equal to one at the late successional stage, mainly due to higher survival rates that allow these species to persist for a long time.

Methods

The demography of pioneer- (Saxifraga aizoides), early (Artemisia genipi) and late-successional species (Anthyllis vulneraria ssp. alpicola) was investigated together with that of a ubiquitous species (Poa alpina) along the Rotmoos glacier foreland (2300–2400 m a.s.l., Central Alps, Austria) over 3 years. A matrix modelling approach was used to compare the main demographic parameters. Elasticity values were plotted in a demographic triangle using fecundity, individual growth and survival as vital rates contributing to the population growth rates.

Key Results

The results largely confirmed the predictions for population growth rates during succession. However, high survival rates of larger adults characterized all species, regardless of where they were growing along the succession. At the pioneer site, high mortality rates of seedlings, plantlets and young individuals were recorded. Fecundity was found to be of minor relevance everywhere, but it was nevertheless sufficient to increase or maintain the population sizes.

Conclusions

Demographically, all the species over all sites behaved like late-successional or climax species in secondary successions, mainly relying on survival of adult individuals. Survival serves as a buffer against temporal variation right from the beginning of the primary succession, indicating a major difference between primary and secondary succession.

Keywords: Demography; elasticity; glacier foreland; matrix model; population growth; primary succession; strategy; Saxifraga aizoides; Artemisia genipi; Anthyllis vulneraria ssp. alpicola; Poa alpina

Journal Article.  9676 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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