, Volume 178, Issue 2, pp 171-187

Factors affecting seed germination and seedling establishment of a long-lived desert shrub (Coleogyne ramosissima: Rosaceae)

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Long-lived desert shrubs exhibit infrequent, episodic recruitment from seed. In spite of this long time scale, selection on life history attributes that affect seedling recruitment should be strong. We studied factors affecting germination phenology and seedling establishment for Coleogyne ramosissima, a dominant shrub species in the ecotone between warm and cold deserts in western North America. We also examined ecotypic differentiation in establishment strategy in response to selection regimes in two contrasting habitats. We followed patterns of dormancy loss, germination, emergence, and survival in reciprocal field experiments at warm winter Mojave Desert and cold winter Colorado Plateau study sites. Seed germination took place in late winter, under winter rain conditions at the warm desert site and under snow at the cold desert site. Distinctive germination phenologies for the two seed populations at contrasting field sites followed predictions based on laboratory germination experiments. There was no seed bank carryover across years. Seedling survival at the end of three growing seasons was remarkably high (mean survival 54%). Most seedling mortality was due to sprout predation by rodents early the first spring in unprotected caches. Emergence and establishment at each site were significantly higher for seeds from the local population, supporting the idea of ecotypic differentiation in establishment strategy. Establishment success was an order of magnitude greater overall at the Colorado Plateau site, which represents the leading edge of an upward elevational shift in distribution for this species under the current climatic regime. The Mojave Desert site is on the trailing edge of this shift, and recruitment there is apparently a much less frequent occurrence.