Tracing coco de mer's reproductive history: Pollen and nutrient limitations reduce fecundity
Morgan, Emma J.
Kaiser-Bunbury, Christopher N.
Edwards, Peter J.
Kettle, Chris J.
- Journal Article
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
Habitat degradation can reduce or even prevent the reproduction of previously abundant plant species. To develop appropriate management strategies, we need to understand the reasons for reduced recruitment in degraded ecosystems. The dioecious coco de mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica) produces by far the largest seeds of any plant. It is a keystone species in an ancient palm forest that occurs only on two small islands in the Seychelles, yet contemporary rates of seed production are low, especially in fragmented populations. We developed a method to infer the recent reproductive history of female trees from morphological evidence present on their inflorescences. We then applied this method to investigate the effects of habitat disturbance and soil nutrient conditions on flower and fruit production. The 57 female trees in our sample showed a 19.5-fold variation in flower production among individuals over a seven-year period. Only 77.2% of trees bore developing fruits (or had recently shed fruits), with the number per tree ranging from zero to 43. Flower production was positively correlated with concentrations of available soil nitrogen and potassium and did not differ significantly between closed and degraded habitat. Fruiting success was positively correlated with pollen availability, as measured by numbers and distance of neighboring male trees. Fruit set was lower in degraded habitat than in closed forest, while the proportion of abnormal fruits that failed to develop was higher in degraded habitat. Seed size recorded for a large sample of seeds collected by forest wardens varied widely, with fresh weights ranging from 1 to 18 kg. Synthesis: Shortages of both nutrients and pollen appear to limit seed production of Lodoicea in its natural habitat, with these factors affecting different stages of the reproductive process. Flower production varies widely amongst trees, while seed production is especially low in degraded habitat. The size of seeds is also very variable. We discuss the implications of these findings for managing this ecologically and economically important species Show more
Journal / seriesEcology and Evolution
Subjectflower production; fruit abortion; Fruit set; habitat degradation; Lodoicea maldivica; nutrient allocation; Pollen limitation; reproductive ecology; seed size; Seychelles islands
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