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Relative Importance of Reproductive Biology and Establishment Ecology for Persistence of a Rare Shrub in a Fragmented Landscape

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Verticordia fimbrilepis (Turcz) ssp. fimbrilepis (Myrtaceae) is an endangered shrub that occurs in a number of populations varying in size and landscape context. We compared the importance of factors associated with its reproductive biology with that of factors influencing the regeneration niche in survival of small, isolated populations in contrasting habitat fragments. Small populations on road verges had equal or greater diversity of insect visitors to flowers, rates of pollination, and seed production compared with larger populations in conservation reserves. V. fimbrilepis seeds remained dormant in the soil for at least 30 months, and germination was stimulated by smoke. Plants were killed by fire, but mass recruitment from soil-stored seed reserves occurred in the first and second winters following fire. Our studies showed some seedling recruitment between fires, but this was strongly related to the availability of competition-free establishment sites. Whether this is enough to replace older plants as they die and thereby sustain stable populations is unknown and probably varies with the landscape. Environmental variation between fire episodes influenced population size. Drought increased mortality, but wetter years encouraged interfire recruitment. Most populations are declining and cannot recover without the occurrence of fire. In a fragmented agricultural landscape, fire suppression is the primary management practice. This may adversely affect rare species such as V. fimbrilepis and others with similar life histories that rely on a particular fire regime to persist. Population persistence is more likely to be related to stochastic environmental events than to factors associated with reproductive biology.
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Keywords: Verticordia fimbrilepis; biología de la polinización; demografía de plantas; dinámica poblacional; fire; fuego; plant demography; pollination biology; population dynamics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Science Division, Department of Conservation and Land Management, Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, Western Australia 6983, Australia, Email: [email protected] 2: School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia 6150, Australia

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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