Spatial patterning and floral synchrony among trillium populations with contrasting histories of herbivory

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


We investigated the spatial patterning and floral synchrony within and among populations of a non-clonal, forest understory herb, Trillium catesbaei. Two populations of T. catesbaei within Great Smoky Mountains National Park were monitored for five years: Cades Cove (high deer abundance) and Whiteoak Sink (low deer abundance). All individuals within each population were mapped during year one and five. Only flowering and single-leaf juveniles were mapped during intervening years. Greater distances between flowering plants (plants currently in flower) and substantially lower population densities and smaller patch sizes were observed at Cades Cove versus Whiteoak Sink. However, with the exception of flowering plants, contrasting histories of herbivory did not appear to fundamentally alter the spatial patterning of the T. catesbaei population at Cades Cove, an area with a long and well-documented history of deer overabundance. Regardless of browse history, non-flowering life stages were significantly clustered at all spatial scales examined. Flowering plants were clustered in all years at Whiteoak Sink, but more often randomly distributed at Cades Cove, possibly as a result of their lower abundance. Between years, however, there was a positive spatial association between the locations of flowering plants at both sites. Flowering rate was synchronous between sites, but lagged a year behind favorable spring growing conditions, which likely allowed plants to allocate photosynthate from a favorable year towards flowering the subsequent year. Collectively, our results suggest that chronically high levels of herbivory may be associated with spatial patterning of flowering within populations of a non-clonal plant. They also highlight the persistence of underlying spatial patterns, as evidenced by high levels of spatial clustering among non-flowering individuals, and the pervasive, although muted in a population subjected to chronic herbivory, influence of precipitation and temperature on flowering in long-lived forest herbs.

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© 2015 Webster et al. Publisher’s version of record:

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