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      Threatened peripheral populations in context: geographical variation in population frequency and size and sexual reproduction in a clonal woody shrub.

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          Abstract

          Geographically peripheral populations of widespread species are often the focus of conservation because they are locally rare within political jurisdictions. Yet the ecology and genetics of these populations are rarely evaluated in a broader geographic context. Most expectations concerning the ecology and evolution of peripheral populations derive from the abundant-center model, which predicts that peripheral populations should be less frequent, smaller, less dense, and have a lower reproductive rate than central populations. We tested these predictions and in doing so evaluated the conservation value of peripheral populations for the clonal shrub Vaccinium stamineum L. (Ericaceae, deerberry), which is listed as threatened in Canada. Based on 51 populations sampled from the center to the northern range limits over 2 years, population frequency and size declined toward the range limit, but ramet density increased. Sexual reproductive output varied widely among populations and between years, with many populations producing very few seeds, but did not decline toward range margins. In fact seed mass increased steadily toward range limit, and this was associated with faster germination and seedling growth, which may be adaptive in seasonal northern environments. Our results did not support the prediction that clonal reproduction is more prevalent in peripheral populations or that it contributed antagonistically to the wide variation in seed production. Peripheral populations of V. stamineum are as productive as central populations and may be locally adapted to northern environments. This emphasizes the importance of a broad geographical perspective for evaluating the ecology, evolution, and conservation of peripheral populations.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          Conserv. Biol.
          Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology
          Wiley-Blackwell
          0888-8892
          0888-8892
          Jun 2007
          : 21
          : 3
          Affiliations
          [1 ] Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada.
          Article
          CBI684
          10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00684.x
          17531058

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