Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 591-613

First online:

Plant species diversity and polyploidy in islands of natural vegetation isolated in extensive cultivated lands

  • Roselyne LumaretAffiliated withDepartment of Population Biology, Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive Louis Emberger, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
  • , Jean-Louis GuillermAffiliated withDepartment of Population Biology, Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive Louis Emberger, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
  • , Jacques MailletAffiliated withLaboratory of Biology, Ecology and Plant Pathology, Ecole Nationale Supe´rieure Agronomique
  • , Regine VerlaqueAffiliated withLaboratory of Biosystematics and Mediterranean Ecology, Universite´ de Provence

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Natural polyploidy is often related to a longer life span, vegetative reproduction and higher competitive ability. In this paper, we test the possibility that these characteristics may favour the survival of polyploid taxa under conditions of long-term habitat fragmentation. In islands of natural vegetation isolated in extensive vineyards located in the South of France and in a large neighbouring area of natural vegetation, plant species richness and the relative abundance of polyploid taxa were assessed according to island size, isolation and vegetation structure. High species richness was observed, with numerous species restricted to the islands, suggesting that these may constitute refugia. However, species richness was not related to island size or to degree of isolation except for the flora of the woody areas. A very positive effect of area fragmentation on plant richness was observed, which is probably attributable to relatively low species overlap among the islands. Particularly high species richness was observed in open areas, provided that these were not extensively colonized by shrubs which seem to be responsible for local extinction of many annual taxa. Polyploids, which comprised mostly perennial herbs and woody species, were predominant in all the islands and in the large reference area. In open habitats invaded by shrubby species, a higher relative frequency of polyploids was observed in islands than in the reference area. Moreover, polyploid taxa were present in a larger number of islands than the diploid taxa, which were often restricted to a single island, suggesting that, after a long period of isolation, the polyploids may still have a lower probability of extinction. Evidence was obtained from vegetation structure analysis that diploid and polyploid annual herbs were restricted to open habitats and were both eliminated by shrubby species. Conversely, the diploid perennial herbs were also significantly affected by shrub colonization whereas the polyploids were mostly present in shrubby areas. This suggests that the higher competitive ability of polyploid perennial herbs may constitute a critical factor responsible for their wider distribution over the islands. We report the implications of our findings on conservation strategies, more particularly for a Mediterranean flora.

long-term habitat fragmentation species richness polyploidy Mediterranean flora