Date of this Version
Ecology, 96(3), 2015, pp. 800–807
Spatiotemporal variation in demographic rates can have profound effects for population persistence, especially for dispersal-limited species living in fragmented landscapes. Long-term studies of plants in such habitats help with understanding the impacts of fragmentation on population persistence but such studies are rare. In this work, we reanalyzed demographic data from seven years of the short-lived cactus Opuntia macrorhiza var. macrorhiza at five plots in Boulder, Colorado. Previous work combining data from all years and all plots predicted a stable population (deterministic log λ=0). This approach assumed that all five plots were part of a single population. Since the plots were located in a suburban–agricultural interface separated by highways, grazing lands, and other barriers, and O. macrorhiza is likely dispersal limited, we analyzed the dynamics of each plot separately using stochastic matrix models assuming each plot represented a separate population. We found that the stochastic population growth rate log λs varied widely between populations (log λS=0.1497, 0.0774, 0.0230, 0.2576, 0.4989). The three populations with the highest growth rates were located close together in space, while the two most isolated populations had the lowest growth rates suggesting that dispersal between populations is critical for the population viability of O. macrorhiza. With one exception, both our prospective (stochastic elasticity) and retrospective (stochastic life table response experiments) analysis suggested that means of stasis and growth, especially of smaller plants, were most important for population growth rate.This is surprising because recruitment is typically the most important vital rate in a short-lived species such as O. macrorhiza. We found that elasticity to the variance was mostly negligible, suggesting that O. macrorhiza populations are buffered against large temporal variation. Finally, single-year elasticities to means of transitions to the smallest stage (mostly due to reproduction) and growth differed considerably from their long-term elasticities. It is important to be aware of this difference when using models to predict the effect of manipulating plant vital rates within the time frame of typical plant demographic studies.