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Habitat and microsite influence demography of two herbs in intact and degraded scrub

Stephens, Elizabeth L., Tye, Matthew R., Quintana-Ascencio, Pedro F.
Population ecology 2014 v.56 no.3 pp. 447-461
Chamaecrista fasciculata, demography, environmental factors, fecundity, habitats, herbs, models, population growth, sand, seeds, shrublands, shrubs, sowing, Florida
Identifying environmental factors associated with vital rate variation is critical to predict population consequences of environmental perturbation. We used matrix models to explore effects of habitat and microsite on demography of two widespread herbs, Chamaecrista fasciculata (partridge pea) and Balduina angustifolia (yellow buttons). We evaluated models simulating population dynamics in common microsites (shrub, litter, bare sand) within two habitats (intact, degraded Florida scrub) using data on experimental populations initiated by sowing seeds, and natural seed production. Models included four stages (seed bank, small vegetative, large vegetative, reproductive) and three vital rates (survival, growth, fecundity), summarized in sixteen transitions. We conducted life table response experiments to assess contributions of each habitat and microsite to population growth rates. We found that (1) C. fasciculata had greatest population growth in degraded habitat and litter microsites, (2) B. angustifolia had similar population growth between habitats and greatest in bare sand microsites, (3) advancing growth transitions of C. fasciculata had greatest elasticity on population growth in degraded habitat, shrub, and litter, as did seed survival in intact habitat and bare sand, (4) seed survival and advancing growth transitions of B. angustifolia had greatest elasticity on population growth in both habitats, as did seed survival in shrub and litter, and advancing growth in bare sand. Greater population growth of C. fasciculata in degraded scrub is probably explained by release from belowground competition; B. angustifolia may be most affected by competition with shrubs. Microsites in intact scrub were not ecologically equivalent to those in degraded scrub emphasizing that intact scrub is ecologically complex and critical to preserve.