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Linking environmental and demographic data to predict future population viability of a perennial herb

Toräng, Per, Ehrlén, Johan, Ågren, Jon
Oecologia 2010 v.163 no.1 pp. 99-109
Primula, climate change, demography, elasticities, extinction, herbs, mature plants, population growth, seed germination, seedlings, seeds, simulation models, summer, viability
Recent advances in stochastic demography provide tools to examine the importance of random and periodic variation in vital rates for population dynamics. In this study, we explore with simulations the effect of disturbance regime on population dynamics and viability. We collected 7 years of demographic data in three populations of the perennial herb Primula farinosa, and used these data to examine how variation in vital rates affected population viability parameters (stochastic growth rate, λS), and how vital rates were related to weather conditions. Elasticity analysis indicated that the stochastic growth rate was very sensitive to changes in regeneration, quantified as the production, survival, and germination of seeds. In one of the study years, all seedlings and mature plants in the demography plots died. This extinction coincided with the driest summer during the study period. Simulations suggested that a future increase in the frequency of high-mortality years due to climate change would result in reduced population growth rate, and an increased importance of survival in the seed bank for population viability. The results illustrate how the limited demographic data typically available for many natural systems can be used in simulation models to assess how environmental change will affect population viability.