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Plant community attributes affect dry grassland orchid establishment

Slaviero, Antonio, Del Vecchio, Silvia, Pierce, Simon, Fantinato, Edy, Buffa, Gabriella
Plant ecology 2016 v.217 no.12 pp. 1533-1543
Anacamptis morio, Himantoglossum, Ophrys, flowering, flowers, fruit set, fruits, grasslands, ground vegetation, hills, in situ conservation, interspecific variation, linear models, plant communities, regression analysis, reproductive fitness, Italy
Several factors have been taken into account to explain the distribution of orchid species. We explored the extent to which plant community attributes affect the abundance and reproductive fitness of three orchid species (Anacamptis morio, Himantoglossum adriaticum and Ophrys sphegodes), native to dry grasslands. Structural attributes of plant community (e.g. cover and height) were assessed in ninety 4 m² plots scattered on three hill massifs of the Veneto Region (NE Italy). For the three target orchid species, the height of the flowering stalk, the relative ramet height and the number of flowers and fruits were recorded in 203 tagged ramets. Generalized Linear Model revealed that plant community attributes such as cover and height of the herb layer exert a negative effect on the abundance of orchid populations. Furthermore, regression models indicated that O. sphegodes and H. adriaticum reproductive fitness, determined as fruit/flower ratio, was positively affected by relative ramet height. Our results revealed that local herbaceous vegetation structure influences the cover and fruit set of target orchid species. However, there can be substantial variation in the response of different species and variation in the structural attributes of surrounding vegetation may be associated with differences in the strength of selection. In order to achieve effective results in orchid species conservation, protocols for the in situ conservation must detail the range of vegetation covers and heights at which orchid species are favoured and can produce the most effective inflorescences.