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Conservation of remnant populations of Colchicum autumnale - The relative importance of local habitat quality and habitat fragmentation

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Semi-natural habitat is extremely vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and degradation since its socio-economic value has decreased substantially during the last century in most parts of Europe. We evaluated the relative effects of habitat fragmentation and local environmental conditions on population structure and reproductive performance of the long-lived corm geophyte Colchicum autumnale in 17 highly fragmented populations. Habitat isolation did not affect patch occupancy, population structure or plant performance. in contrast, population size and local environment strongly affected population structure and reproductive performance. Densities of all life stages increased with increasing population size. Large populations also showed a higher reproductive performance and a larger proportion of new recruits. Relationships with local growth conditions pointed towards the importance of an open grassland sward for flower and fruit set and the presence of microsites for successful sexual recruitment. These results suggest that the distribution of C. autumnale consists of an assemblage of basically unconnected populations that are remnants of formerly larger populations. This is in accordance with the species' ability to grow clonally, allowing long-term persistence under deteriorating conditions that occurred during a long period of habitat fragmentation. In conclusion, our results indicate that local habitat and population size are more important than habitat fragmentation (i.e. calcareous grassland isolation and surface area) and argue in favour of a management that is primarily focused on local habitat restoration. This is preferentially accomplished by reintroducing grazing practices, complemented by regular setback of spontaneous succession towards forest. (C) 2008 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.
Journal: Acta Oecologica
ISSN: 1146-609X
Issue: 1
Volume: 35
Pages: 69 - 82
Publication year:2009
BOF-publication weight:1
CSS-citation score:1
Authors from:Higher Education