Question: Is demographic performance of Primula vulgaris correlated with habitat characteristics of the small landscape elements in which it occurs? Can we use this species as an indicator for species-rich semi-natural habitats?
Location: Flanders, Belgium.
Methods: To capture differences in demographic traits and habitat characteristics, both within and between populations, a two-level survey was carried out. Population size and structure of 89 P. vulgaris populations in different types of small landscape elements was recorded in 1999. At plot level, densities of different life stages were determined and these were related to edaphic conditions and vegetation structure and composition.
Results: Three different population types were distinguished: (1) dynamic populations, characterized by seedling and juvenile proportions, (2) normal populations with relatively more adults, but with considerable numbers of seedlings and juveniles and (3) senescent populations, mainly consisting of adults. Senescent populations were significantly smaller than populations with a dynamic demographic structure. At plot level, comparison of demographic characteristics between different management regimes revealed that recruitment rates and total plant density of P. vulgaris were highest in plots that received a regime that included mowing and clearing of ditch banks whereas densities were lower along forest edges. For these plots, it was shown that nutrient levels were higher. Densities of adults as well as juvenile and seedling densities were negatively correlated with vegetation height.
Conclusions: Local disturbance and heterogeneity may mask the relationship between unfavourable conditions and demographic characteristics at population level, but it is clear that in small populations recruitment needs to be lifted to guarantee its persistence. Performance of P. vulgaris in small landscape elements can be a first indication of plant species diversity in small landscape elements.
Nomenclature: Lambinon et al. (1998).