, Volume 200, Issue 2, pp 241-254

Temporal variation in the effects of habitat fragmentation on reproduction of the Mediterranean shrub Colutea hispanica

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Abstract

Habitat fragmentation poses a major threat to the viability of plant populations. However, the intensity of fragmentation effects may vary among years. We studied two possible effects of habitat fragmentation (patch size and isolation) on the reproduction and proportion of damaged fruits in 24 patches of the self-compatible shrub Colutea hispanica for three consecutive years with different climate conditions. We also studied the effect of fragmentation on the incidence of two main pre-dispersal seed predators, the butterflies Iolana iolas and Lampides boeticus. High between-year variability was found in number of viable seeds per fruit, number of fruits per plant, total number of viable seeds per plant and proportion of damaged fruits. In 2003, small, isolated patches had a higher fruit set and number of fruits per plant. The proportion of damaged fruits was significantly lower in isolated populations in 2003, while it was very high in all patches in 2004 and 2005. High between-year variability was also found in the proportion of fruits per plant with I. iolas eggs. In 2003 isolated patches had a lower proportion of fruits with I. iolas eggs, but no significant effect of patch size and isolation was found in 2004 or 2005. The proportion of fruits with L. boeticus eggs was similar in the three years of study, although it was slightly higher in large, non-isolated patches in 2003. Thus, the effects of fragmentation on plant reproduction cannot be generalized from one single-year survey. In contrast to the generally accepted idea that fragmentation reduces plant reproduction, plant fitness may increase in isolated patches in years with high fruit production and low seed predation.