Population Dynamic Consequences of Habitat Heterogeneity: An Experimental Study
Population dynamic consequences of habitat heterogeneity were investigated in a population of the desert annual Stipa capensis by measuring demographic responses of subpopulations inhabiting different habitats (slopes, depressions, and wadis) to natural and experimental changes in the amount of yearly rainfall. The results indicate that rainfall fluctuations affect the dynamics of the studied population by influencing both the percentage of germination and the number of seeds produced per germinated plant. However, the effect of changes in rainfall on both demographic parameters depends on habitat conditions, with slope subpopulations exhibiting the largest, and wadi subpopulations the smallest, effects. The fact that demographic responses to rainfall fluctuations are habitat dependent has two major implications. First, subpopulations inhabiting different habitats show considerable differences in their year-to-year fluctuations in density. Secondly, since seed production per seedling is habitat dependent, the distribution of the seedling population among the various habitats is a major determinant of the total number of seeds produced by the population in a given year. The results further indicate that most of the seeds (75-99.9%, depending on rainfall conditions) are produced in the depressions and the wadis, which taken together account for only 10% of the total area. This finding indicates that the ecological conditions in these spatially restricted habitats are critical for the dynamics of the whole population. The overall results suggest that taking into account factors such as the number and types of habitats available, the relative area occupied by each habitat and the distribution of the individuals among the available habitats may be important in explaining observed patterns of populations dynamics.
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