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Climate change and longterm patch dynamics of a perennial herb

Solbreck, Christer
Basic and applied ecology 2012 v.13 no.5 pp. 414-422
Vincetoxicum, climate, climate change, extinction, flowers, growing season, herbs, insects, landscapes, population dynamics, shoots, Sweden
Many perennial herbs are patchily distributed across the landscape. How such patch systems change over time is poorly known. What are the rates of patch establishment, extinction and area growth, and to what degree are changes synchronous and exhibiting trends? Can, for example, climate change signals be discerned? These questions are of interest also concerning the long-term population dynamics of the insects utilizing patchy plant resources. All patches of Vincetoxicum hirundinaria, a long-lived, patchily distributed herb, were mapped within a 12km² area in SE Sweden. Patch areas were measured in 1977 and then almost yearly from 1990 to 2008. None of the original patches went extinct, but eleven new patches were established during the 32-year study period. However, the new patches combined represented only 0.6% of the total patch area in 2008. Average patch size did not change up to the early 1990s, but thereafter most patches grew slowly and steadily in size. This increase coincided with a climate shift towards longer growing seasons with warmer, sunnier and wetter summers. Larger patches and patches where plants had more flowers per shoot expanded faster. The patch system is presently not in equilibrium and this is probably the result of the new climatic regime. The number of patches increases steadily, most patches increase synchronously in size, and there is a positive feed back of patch size on rate of increase. Still, rates of increase are low, and in a three decade perspective the distribution of plant resources at the landscape scale remains essentially unchanged.