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Ecology. 2006 Jan;87(1):113-24.

Habitat-specific impacts of multiple consumers on plant population dynamics.

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  • 1Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula 59812, USA.


Multiple consumers often attack seeds, seedlings, and adult plants, but their population-level consequences remain uncertain. We examined how insect and small mammal consumers influenced the demography and abundance of the perennial shrub, bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus). In grassland and dune habitats we established replicate experimental lupine populations in 81-m2 plots that were either protected from, or exposed to, herbivorous voles and granivorous mice (via fencing) and/or root feeding insects (via insecticide treatment). Populations were initiated with transplanted seedlings in 1999 and 2000. We followed the demography of these cohorts, subsequent generations, and the seed bank for 5.5 years. Voles and insects killed many seedlings in dune (1999 only) and grassland (1999 and 2000) habitats. After 2000, insects and voles had minimal effects on seedling or adult survival. Seed predation by granivorous mice, however, greatly depressed seedling recruitment, resulting in lower adult lupine abundance in control plots vs. those protected from rodents. In grasslands, initial effects of voles and insects on seedling survival produced large differences among treatments in adult plant density and the cumulative number of seeds produced throughout the experiment. Differences among grassland populations in seed rain, however, had little influence on the magnitude of seedling recruitment into this habitat. Instead, recruitment out of a preexisting seed bank compensated for the lack of seed production in populations exposed to consumers. Shading by dense adults in plots protected from consumers limited seedling establishment within these populations. Although differences among populations in cumulative seed rain did not influence adult establishment, populations protected from consumers accumulated substantially larger seed banks than controls. These results illustrate how density dependence, habitat-specific seed dynamics, and particular demographic impacts of consumers interact to shape plant population responses to consumers.

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