Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The type of regional dynamics of a species can provide information on how to manage the species, and may be the only way that some rare species may persist in a given region. A metapopulation is a type of regional dynamic in which local extinction is counterbalanced by recruitment from nearby patches. Metapopulation studies were originally conducted on animals, but have been adapted to plants, and are generally restricted to single-season studies. Plant species may persist as a metapopulation in patchy habitats, such as in forest openings. Forest openings (commonly called barrens, hill prairies, or glades) are habitats found on ridgetops which are characterized by having thin or nutrient-poor soil, high sunlight exposure, and relatively low soil moisture when compared to nearby forest habitats. Forest openings commonly contain plant species more frequently found in prairies, and are often maintained by natural fires that prevents woody species encroachment. In the absence of natural fires due to human management and suppression, woody species have invaded some forest openings, dividing them into a series of patches. To determine whether it is possible for each species to persist as a metapopulation in forest openings, five studies were carried out at each of three sites within the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois: a plant survey and ordination using environmental variables, the use of incidence function models to determine which of the species had the potential to form a metapopulation, a metacommunity study to examine overall patterns at each site, a seed bank study, and a seed dispersal study. Forest openings were found to be separate habitats from the surrounding forest based upon canopy openness. Approximately 30% of the species fit the metapopulation model, and the metacommunities at each of the sites exhibited a Clementsian pattern, characterized by groups of co-occurring species that replace each other over the region due to turnover between the groups of species. Species that fit the metapopulation model tended to have seeds that emerge more frequently from the seed bank if annuals and less frequently in the seed bank than species not fitting the metapopulation model (non-metapopulation species) if longer-lived. Species fitting the metapopulation model dispersed equal numbers of seeds as non-metapopulation species at short (5m) and medium (10m) distances, and in some cases dispersed more seeds to longer distances than non-metapopulation species. These studies show that forest openings can be treated as islands of suitable habitat for some species, and that numerous (~30%) species (such as Scleria pauciflora, Stylosanthes biflora, and Manfreda virginica) may assume a metapopulation dynamic in any given year. Many species may have incidence patterns consistent with those of a metapopulation in multiple years; however, the exact habitat patches in which species occur in any given year may change from year to year. Species in forest openings tend to co-occur in groups (a Clementsian pattern), which means that management plans should consider the entire community rather than a single species.
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