Plant Diversity ›› 2019, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (02): 109-117.DOI: 10.1016/j.pld.2018.09.004

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Habitat suitability and herbivores determine reintroduction success of an endangered legume

Matthew A. Albrecht, Quinn G. Long   

  1. Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, Missouri Botanical Garden, PO Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166, USA
  • Received:2018-02-11 Revised:2018-08-04 Online:2019-04-25 Published:2019-05-18
  • Contact: Matthew A. Albrecht
  • Supported by:
    This research was supported by the United States Department of Interior National Park Service Challenge Cost-Share Program (Grant:H55901000010) and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation-Division of Natural Areas (Grants:32701-00385, 32701-0899, and 32701-01236).

Abstract: Reintroductions of rare plants require detailed knowledge of habitat requirements, species interactions, and restoration techniques. Thus, incremental experimentation over many years may be required to develop adequate knowledge and techniques for successful reintroduction. To determine drivers of extinction in historical reintroductions of a federally endangered perennial (Astragalus bibullatus), we developed a reintroduction experiment to disentangle the relative importance of habitat quality, herbivores, and restoration technique on reintroduction success. In a factorial design, we manipulated access to vertebrate herbivores across different habitat types (mesic ecotone vs. xeric barren), and used founder populations comprised of more transplants and genetic sources than previous reintroduction attempts. In mesic ecotones where historical reintroductions failed, excluding herbivores, thinning woody encroachment to improve habitat quality, outplanting across a greater array of microhabitats, and increasing founder population size did not improve demographic rates over previous attempts. Compared to mesic ecotones, transplant survival rates and cumulative fruit production were more than two and ten times greater, respectively, in a xeric barren ecotone characterized by open, grassy, and dry microenvironmental conditions. Across all sites, herbivores decreased probabilities of survival and flowering of larger adult plants. Flowering rates were 80% greater inside relative to outside herbivore exclusion cages. Over a four-year period, only a single uncaged plant produced fruit. Our study demonstrates that habitat quality and vertebrate herbivory are key drivers of long-term persistence in rare plant reintroductions. Using incremental experiments that build on previous knowledge gained from long-term monitoring can improve reintroduction outcomes.

Key words: Astragalus bibullatus, Translocation, Rare plant, Conservation, Founder size, Grassland