Density-dependent seed set in the Haleakala silversword: evidence for an Allee effect
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Plant species may be subject to Allee effects if individuals experience a reduction in pollination services when populations are small or sparse. I examined temporal variation in reproductive success of the monocarpic Haleakala silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum) over five years, to determine if plants flowering out of synchrony with most of the population (i.e., in low flowering years) exhibited lower percent seed set than synchronously-flowering plants (i.e., those flowering in high flowering years). Through two pollination experiments conducted over multiple years, I also measured pollen limitation and self-incompatibility in this species. The number of flowering plants varied greatly among years, as did reproductive success. Percent seed set was significantly correlated with the number of plants flowering annually, such that plants flowering in high flowering years (1997 and 2001) exhibited significantly higher percent seed set than did plants flowering in low flowering years (1998–2000). In the 3-year pollen limitation study, plants flowering asynchronously were pollen-limited, whereas plants flowering synchronously were not. This species is strongly self-incompatible. Results of this study demonstrate that the Haleakala silversword experiences reduced reproductive success in low flowering years, and suggest that this Allee effect is pollinator-mediated. Allee effects in plants are an understudied yet potentially important force with implications for the population dynamics and conservation of rare species.