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Oecologia. 2005 Apr;143(3):377-86. Epub 2005 Jan 27.

Fecundity limits in Frangula alnus (Rhamnaceae) relict populations at the species' southern range margin.

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Departamento de Biología Vegetal y Ecología, Universidad de Sevilla, PO Box 1095, 41080 Sevilla, Spain.


The geographic range of many temperate plant species is constrained by climate, but it remains little known how climate affects population performance at low-latitude range margins. This study investigated the reproduction of the Eurasian tree Frangula alnus in relict populations near its southwestern range limit in southern Spain. The aim was to identify the principal stages and causes of ovule loss experienced by these marginal populations. More than 6,800 flowers were monitored over 2 years, insect observations and different experiments were carried out to assess levels of pollen and resource limitation, as well as the influence of flowering phenology on seed production. Most ovule losses occurred during flower anthesis and were due to strong cross-pollen limitation. Fruit set was affected by tree size, light regime and flowering phenology, probably through their effects on pollinator behaviour. Fruit set was almost zero throughout the first half of the flowering season. Then it increased paralleling changes in pollinator abundance but was soon overridden by increasing ovule desiccation due to summer drought. Successful seed production was mostly confined to a brief period near the end of the flowering season. Adverse weather during this period in the second study year resulted in a threefold bud and flower mortality and a 50% decrease of fruit production. Spring rainfalls in southwestern Spain have diminished more than 30% through past decades leading to an earlier onset of summer drought. This trend and its adverse effects on seed production may contribute to explaining the recent decline of F. alnus at its southwestern range limit.

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