Demographic vulnerability of the clonal and endangered meadow thistle

Eelke Jongegans, Natasha De Vere, Hans de Kroon

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For effective management of endangered species it is pivotal to understand why a species is endangered and which key life cycle components are involved in its response to environmental changes. Our objective was to investigate the response of rosettes of the redlisted clonal herb Cirsium dissectum to anthropogenic nutrient enrichment, which threatens its populations, and the consequences of these responses for its population dynamics. We constructed matrix population models with demographic data from three populations and four annual transitions and we decomposed the spatiotemporal variation in projected population growth rates into contributions from life cycle components. These patterns were compared with below-ground rosette dynamics in different fields, and with the below- and above-ground rosette dynamics in a garden experiment with nutrient enrichment and competing grasses. The decomposition analysis revealed that increased clonal rosette formation and decreased rosette survival were driving the spatial variation in the population growth rate. Excavating the below-ground rhizome network revealed a higher rosette turn-over in experimentally fertilized garden plots, which not only resulted in increased plot-level extinction, but also in increased spread of the clonal offspring. This supported the observed trend among field populations: rosette formation trades off with rosette survival. Surviving seedlings were only found in areas where the topsoil had been removed. The endangered C. dissectum is vulnerable when its habitat becomes more productive, because this species does not have the necessary capability to build up biomass. Small-scale disturbances such as created by sod-cutting or trampling cattle are essential for seedling establishment and necessary to render the explorative strategy of rhizomatous clonal spread successful.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-240
Number of pages16
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
Early online date10 Feb 2008
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2008


  • Clonal propagation
  • life table response experiments(LTRE)
  • Matrix population model
  • Nutrient enrichment
  • Rosette turn-over
  • Topsoil removal


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