The paper uses modified population viability models and spatial structure via block analysis to assess population demography of Trillium recurvatum a clonal understory plant. The population is expanding, a likely outcome of the relatively high proportion of juvenile and non-flowering adult ramets and fast-replicating non-flowering adults. Further work is needed to elucidate the relative contributions of clonal vs seed recruitment to genetic structure and demography.
Background and aims
Understanding the demography of long-lived clonal herbs, with their extreme modularity, requires knowledge of both their short- and long-term survival and ramet growth patterns. The primary objective of this study was to understand the dynamics of a clonal forest herb, Trillium recurvatum, by examining temporal and small-scale demographic patterns. We hypothesized: (i) there would be more variability in the juvenile age class compared with non-flowering adult and flowering adult classes due to year-to-year fluctuations in recruitment; (ii) rates of population growth (λ) and increase (r) would be highest in non-flowering ramets due to a combination of transitions from the juvenile stage and reversions from flowering adults; and (iii) inter-ramet distances would be most variable between flowering and juvenile ramets due to a combination of clonal growth, seed dispersal by ants and ramet death over time.
Census data were collected on the total number of stems in the population from 1990 to 2007, and placed within one of three life stages (juvenile, three-leaf non-flowering and three-leaf flowering). Modified population viability equations were used to assess temporal population viability, and spatial structure was assessed using block krigging. Correlations were performed using current and prior season weather to current population demography.
The first hypothesis was rejected. The second hypothesis was supported: population increase (r) and growth rate (λ) were highest in non-flowering ramets. Finally, the third hypothesis was rejected: there was no apparent density dependence within this population of Trillium and no apparent spatial structure among life stages.
Overall population density fluctuated over time, possibly due to storms that move soil, and prior year's temperature and precipitation. However, density remained at some dynamic stable level. The juvenile age class had greater variability for the duration of this study and population growth rate was greatest for non-flowering ramets.