Direct and indirect effects of landscape change on the reproduction of a temperate perennial herb.

Published online
30 Nov 2011
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Valdés, A. & García, D.
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The harmful effects of landscape change on species reproduction may be direct when habitat loss and fragmentation affect individual performance within habitat remnants, but also indirect when reproductive collapse derives from the effect of landscape alterations on population traits. Although the distinction between direct and indirect effects is crucial for the effective management of species, studies looking at both are scarce. To assess the mechanisms and the temporal consistency of landscape change effects on reproduction, we quantified flowering, fruiting and seed set of the perennial herb Primula vulgaris through a gradient of forest loss and fragmentation, in 2 years with different climatic conditions. We used structural equation modelling to relate, at the landscape scale, forest habitat availability and subdivision, forest edge length, population size and subdivision, and flower, fruit and seed production. We also evaluated the effects of light availability, plant abundance and aggregation on reproduction at the local scale. Flower and fruit production decreased in landscape regions with lower forest habitat availability, and fruit production decreased in areas with a smaller amount of forest edge. There was also a negative indirect effect of habitat loss on seed production, through population size reduction. These effects mostly emerged at the landscape scale and operated in all reproductive stages, but were also transmitted across stages, as flower and fruit production quantitatively influenced seed output. Landscape change effects on reproduction differed between the 2 years, becoming evident after a mild winter that favoured long-lasting flowering, but disappearing, or even changing sign, when winter harshness shortened flowering. Synthesis and applications. Disentangling the relative importance of direct and indirect effects of landscape change in plant reproduction is a novel approach to distinguishing between populations and habitats as the required management targets. In our study system, increasing P. vulgaris population sizes within small forest patches seems less effective than increasing forest cover around existing populations (even small ones), to enhance individual reproduction. The contrasting effects of the different processes of landscape change and the potential additive role of climatic variability must also be considered in management purposes.

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