Environmental Scales on the Reproduction of a Gypsophyte: A Hierarchical Approach

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Environmental variability at several scales can determine plant reproductive success. The main goal of this work was to model the reproductive flexibility of a semi-arid specialist considering different scales of environmental variability.

Methods

A 2-year field study was performed on the determinants of the female reproductive success of Helianthemum squamatum, an Iberian gypsophyte, considering two scales of environmental variability: differences between two contrasting slope aspects; and, on individual scale, the neighbouring microenvironment. Generalized linear mixed models were used to evaluate simultaneously the potential effects of environmental variability at both scales, together with flowering phenology and plant size on the reproductive output of H. squamatum. The following reproductive response variables were considered: number of flowers, fruit-set, number of viable and aborted seeds per fruit, and number of seeds per plant.

Key Results

Contrary to expectations, environmental variability exerted a weak or even absent effect on the reproductive variables considered, while flowering phenology and plant size, which did not vary between slopes, played a major role. Surprisingly, the absolute reproductive variables were even higher in the extremely dry year of 2003, although only on the south-facing slope. The relatively milder conditions of the north-facing slope did not involve any advantage to this species in terms of reproductive output.

Conclusions

The species seemed to be considerably well adapted to the environmental unpredictability characteristic of Mediterranean systems, considering its ability to maintain reproduction across contrasting environments and contrasting climatic conditions. These findings make us face the question of what must be considered stressful conditions in the case of a stress-tolerant specialist.

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