Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I thought that covering an article about Trifolium (clover) seemed very appropriate. In a recent paper, Matthias Schleuning and colleagues examine the population dynamics of Trifolium montanum, a species in decline in central Germany. They examined the relative threats of habitat fragmentation and degradation on T. montanum’s population dynamics. They found that both degradation and fragmentation were having serious negative impacts. Degraded habitats in this system mean the shift away from nutrient-poor conditions and include the invasion of taller species that are better light competitors. T. montanum is a poor light competitor and maintains larger populations in mown or grazed habitats that keep taller invaders out. This species also faces the double whammy of fragmented habitats resulting in isolated populations. These isolates have lower reproductive output likely due to greater inbreeding and less genetic transfer, via pollinators, among different populations.
I always think of Trifolium species as being particularly common and widely distributed, but there are some that are threatened and potentially tell us about the threats faced by imperiled plant populations. In fact, while a number of North American Trifolium species have successfully invaded North America, but T. montanum is not, according to the USDA Plants Database. These results reveal that these negative effects affect plants at different stages of their life cycle (growth to maturity vs. recuitment) and that log-term persistence of these populations requires management activities that ameliorate both of these effects.
SCHLEUNING, M., NIGGEMANN, M., BECKER, U., & MATTHIES, D. (2009). Negative effects of habitat degradation and fragmentation on the declining grassland plant Trifolium montanum Basic and Applied Ecology, 10 (1), 61-69 DOI: 10.1016/j.baae.2007.12.002