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Am J Bot. 2008 Feb;95(2):258-62. doi: 10.3732/ajb.95.2.258.

Life span correlates with population dynamics in perennial herbaceous plants.

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  • 1Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, CSIC, Apdo. 202, Zaragoza, Spain.


Survival and fecundity are basic components of demography and therefore have a strong influence on population dynamics. These two key parameters and their relationship are crucial to understand the evolution of life histories. It remains, however, to be empirically established how life span, fecundity, and population dynamics are linked in different organism groups. We conducted a comparative study based on demographic data sets of 55 populations of 23 perennial herbs for which structured demographic models and among-year natural variation in demographic attributes were available. Life span (from 4 to 128 yr old), estimated by using an algorithm, was inversely correlated with the deviance of the population growth rate from equilibrium as well as with among-year population fluctuations. Temporal variability was greater for short-lived species than for the long-lived ones because fecundity was more variable than survival and relatively more important for population dynamics for the short-lived species. The relationship between life span and population stability suggests that selection for longevity may have played an important role in the life history evolution of plants because of its ability to buffer temporal fluctuations in population size.

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