Indexed on: 13 May '16Published on: 10 May '16Published in: Ecology and Evolution
Clonality is a widespread life history trait in flowering plants that may be essential for population persistence, especially in environments where sexual reproduction is unpredictable. Frequent clonal reproduction, however, could hinder sexual reproduction by spatially aggregating ramets that compete with seedlings and reduce inter‐genet pollination. Nevertheless, the role of clonality in relation to variable sexual reproduction in population dynamics is often overlooked. We combined population matrix models and pollination experiments to compare the demographic contributions of clonal and sexual reproduction in three Dicentra canadensis populations, one in a well‐forested landscape and two in isolated forest remnants. We constructed stage‐based transition matrices from 3 years of census data to evaluate annual population growth rates, λ. We used loop analysis to evaluate the relative contribution of different reproductive pathways to λ. Despite strong temporal and spatial variation in seed set, populations generally showed stable growth rates. Although we detected some pollen limitation of seed set, manipulative pollination treatments did not affect population growth rates. Clonal reproduction contributed significantly more than sexual reproduction to population growth in the forest remnants. Only at the well‐forested site did sexual reproduction contribute as much as clonal reproduction to population growth. Flowering plants were more likely to transition to a smaller size class with reduced reproductive potential in the following year than similarly sized nonflowering plants, suggesting energy trade‐offs between sexual and clonal reproduction at the individual level. Seed production had negligible effects on growth and tuber production of individual plants. Our results demonstrate that clonal reproduction is vital for population persistence in a system where sexual reproduction is unpredictable. The bias toward clonality may be driven by low fitness returns for resource investment in sexual reproduction at the individual level. However, chronic failure in sexual reproduction may exacerbate the imbalance between sexual and clonal reproduction and eventually lead to irreversible loss of sex in the population.