Assessing Intraspecific Variation in Effective Dispersal Along an Altitudinal Gradient: A Test in Two Mediterranean High-Mountain Plants


<div><p>Background</p><p>Plant recruitment depends among other factors on environmental conditions and their variation at different spatial scales. Characterizing dispersal in contrasting environments may thus be necessary to understand natural intraspecific variation in the processes underlying recruitment. <i>Silene ciliata</i> and <i>Armeria caespitosa</i> are two representative species of cryophilic pastures above the tree line in Mediterranean high mountains. No explicit estimations of dispersal kernels have been made so far for these or other high-mountain plants. Such data could help to predict their dispersal and recruitment patterns in a context of changing environments under ongoing global warming.</p><p>Methods</p><p>We used an inverse modelling approach to analyse effective seed dispersal patterns in five populations of both <i>Silene ciliata</i> and <i>Armeria caespitosa</i> along an altitudinal gradient in Sierra de Guadarrama (Madrid, Spain). We considered four commonly employed two-dimensional seedling dispersal kernels exponential-power, 2Dt, WALD and log-normal.</p><p>Key Results</p><p>No single kernel function provided the best fit across all populations, although estimated mean dispersal distances were short (<1 m) in all cases. <i>S. ciliata</i> did not exhibit significant among-population variation in mean dispersal distance, whereas significant differences in mean dispersal distance were found in <i>A. caespitosa</i>. Both <i>S. ciliata</i> and <i>A. caespitosa</i> exhibited among-population variation in the fecundity parameter and lacked significant variation in kernel shape.</p><p>Conclusions</p><p>This study illustrates the complexity of intraspecific variation in the processes underlying recruitment, showing that effective dispersal kernels can remain relatively invariant across populations within particular species, even if there are strong variations in demographic structure and/or physical environment among populations, while the invariant dispersal assumption may not hold for other species in the same environment. Our results call for a case-by-case analysis in a wider range of plant taxa and environments to assess the prevalence and magnitude of intraspecific dispersal variation.</p></div

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