Characterising spatial and temporal variation in the finite rate of population increase across the northern range boundary of the annual grass Vulpia fasciculata
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- Norton, L.R., Firbank, L.G., Scott, A. et al. Oecologia (2005) 144: 407. doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0102-8
Understanding the factors that influence plant distributions is a considerable challenge for ecologists in the face of environmental change. Here, we quantify spatial and temporal variation in the finite rate of population increase of the annual grass Vulpia fasciculata. Specifically, we test the hypothesis that the northern range boundary is associated with finite rates of population increase of less than one. Seeds of three ecotypes of the annual grass V. fasciculata were introduced annually across a range of sites in Great Britain both within (11) and to the north (4) of its current range boundary in each of 4 years. Populations failed to establish at 17% of target sites due to disturbance. At the remaining target sites, the finite rate of population increase, λ, varied from 0.06 to 33.3 with a geometric mean of 1.88. Of the total variance in the rate of population growth, site and year effects accounted independently for 40% of the variation and in interaction for 50%; ecotype accounted for less than 5% of the variation. Variation in the weather between sites and years had little impact on plant performance, and there was no indication that the rate of population growth was lower to the north of the current range boundary. We conclude that current climatic conditions on the coast of Great Britain are not limiting the distribution of V. fasciculata and that seeds from across its current range have roughly equivalent colonising potential.