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Ecology. 2012 Jul;93(7):1604-13.

Role of climate and competitors in limiting fitness across range edges of an annual plant.

Author information

1
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA. stant067@umn.edu

Abstract

It is often assumed that the geographic distributions of species match their climatic tolerances, but this assumption is not frequently tested. Moreover, few studies examine the relative importance of abiotic and biotic factors for limiting species ranges. We combined multiple approaches to assess the extent to which fitness of a widespread native annual legume, Chamaecrista fasciculata, decreases at and beyond its northern and western range edges, and how this is influenced by the presence of neighbors. First, we examined plant fitness and the effect of neighbors in natural populations at different geographic range locations for three years. Fitness decreased toward the northern range edge, but not the western edge. Neighbor removal had a consistently positive effect on seedpod production across all years and sites. Second, we established experimental populations at sites within the range, and at and beyond the northern and western range edges. We tracked individual fitness and recorded seedling recruitment in the following year (a complete generation) to estimate population growth rate. Individual fitness and population growth declined to near zero beyond both range edges, indicating that C. fasciculata with its present genetic composition will not establish in these regions, given conditions currently. We also carried out a neighbor removal treatment. Consistent with the natural populations, neighbors reduced seedpod production of reproductive adults. However, neighbors also increased early-season survival, and this positive effect early in life history resulted in a net positive effect of neighbors on lifetime fitness at most range locations. Our data show that the population growth rate of C. fasciculata includes values above replacement, and populations are well adapted to conditions up to the edge of the range, whereas the severely compromised fitness at sites beyond the edge precludes immediate establishment of populations and thereby impedes adaptation to these conditions.

PMID:
22919907
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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