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Timing of mowing influences genetic diversity and reproductive success in endangered semi-natural grassland plants

Nakahama, Naoyuki, Uchida, Kei, Ushimaru, Atushi, Isagi, Yuji
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2016 v.221 pp. 20-27
Vincetoxicum, adverse effects, endangered species, flowering, fruiting, fruits, genetic markers, genetic variation, grasslands, herbaceous plants, inflorescences, land use change, landscapes, mowing, pollination, reproductive success
Recent global land-use changes have led to reductions in many herbaceous plant species in semi-natural grassland landscapes. Changes in management frequency and intensity are known to cause declines in plant populations. However, little is known about the impact of changes in the timing of management practices on the genetic diversity as well as the reproductive success of rare semi-natural grassland species. We determined the suitable management (mowing) timing for Vincetoxicum pycnostelma Kitag. (Apocynaceae; Asclepiadoideae), an endangered summer- and autumn-blooming semi-natural grassland herb. We examined 15 V. pycnostelma populations to assess the effects of mowing timing on the genetic diversity of each population using nine microsatellite markers and on pollination and reproductive success. Pollination success was not affected by flowering timing. Mowing during the mid- to late flowering and fruiting periods of V. pycnostelma (July–September) had a significant negative effect on the number of inflorescences and total fruits produced, whereas mowing before flowering and growing periods (April, May and November–March) had positive effects on the number of inflorescences and fruits, respectively. Furthermore, mowing during the mid- to late flowering and fruiting periods also caused a significant decrease in genetic diversity. Our results demonstrated that mowing events during the mid- to late flowering and fruiting periods caused significant declines in the genetic diversity and/or reproductive success of V. pycnostelma. By contrast, mowing before flowering periods significantly enhanced reproductive success. To conserve semi-natural grassland herb diversity, mowing should be avoided during seasons when the flowering and fruiting periods of many endangered species overlap.