Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 18, Issue 5–6, pp 563–584 | Cite as

Optimum reproduction and dispersal strategies of a clonal plant in a metapopulation: a simulation study with Hieracium pilosella

Research Article


Clonal spread is favoured in many plants at the expense of seed production in order to expand rapidly into open habitats or to occupy space by forming dense patches. However, for the dynamics of a population in a patchy landscape seed dispersal remains important even for clonal plants. We used a spatially explicit individual-based metapopulation model to examine the consequences of two trade-offs in Hieracium pilosella L: first, between vegetative and sexual reproduction, and second, between short and far-distance dispersal of seeds. Our main question was, what are the environmental conditions that cause a mixed strategy of vegetative and sexual reproduction to be optimal. The model was parameterised with field data on local population dynamics of H. pilosella. Patch dynamics were given firstly by disturbance events that opened patches in a matrix of a clonal grass that were colonisable for H. pilosella, and secondly by the gradual disappearance of H. pilosella patches due to the expanding grass. Simulations revealed opposing selection pressures on traits determined by the two trade-offs. Vegetative reproduction is favoured by local dynamics, i.e. the need for maintenance and expansion of established populations, whereas seed production is favoured by the necessity to colonise empty habitats. Similar pressures act on the proportion of seeds dispersed over short and far distances. Optimum reproductive and dispersal strategies depended on habitat quality (determined by seedling establishment probability), the fraction of dispersed seeds, and the fraction of seeds lost on unsuitable ground. Under habitat conditions supporting moderate to low seedling establishment, between 20% and 40% of reproductive effort in H. pilosella should be devoted to sexual reproduction with at least 10% of the seeds dispersed over distances suitable to attain empty patches. We conclude that in a spatially heterogeneous landscape sexual seed production in a clonal plant is advantageous even at the expense of local vegetative growth.


dispersal Hieracium pilosella metapopulation allocation trade-off simulation model reproduction 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Botanical InstituteUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Ecological ModellingUFZ Centre for Environmental ResearchLeipzigGermany

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