Population growth versus population spread of an ant-dispersed neotropical herb with a mixed reproductive strategy

Josiane Le Corff, Carol C. Horvitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


In plants that produce seeds with contrasting genetic background (selfed versus outcrossed), the question arises whether the ecological function of the two types of progeny differ. This paper addresses this issue for the ant-dispersed Calathea micans by introducing a novel application of the Neubert-Caswell model for analysis of wave speed for structured populations. Because dispersal as well as vital rates are structured, the model allows for distinct dispersal kernels for different types of progeny and thus permits comparisons of the sensitivity to changes in demographic and dispersal parameters of in situ population growth rate versus population spread across space. The study site was a lowland, evergreen tropical rain forest at La Selva Biological station, Costa Rica, where the species is commonly found throughout the forest. In C. micans, seeds produced by open flowers (potentially outcrossed) or by closed flowers (selfed) bear oily arils and are dispersed by ants. Five life-history stages were used to characterize the population: seedlings originating from seeds produced by open flowers, seedlings originating from seeds produced by closed flowers, juvenile vegetative plants, reproductive plants without new shoots and reproductive plants with new shoots. Demography varied seasonally. Transitions were estimated from marking and following the fate of plants (N = 400) in a natural population over a dry and a wet season. The population dynamics was described by a 10 × 10 matrix, with five life-history stages and two habitat states. The habitat states cycle repeatedly, dry-wet-dry-wet. To estimate dispersal kernels for each seed type, individual seeds (N = 225 and 306 seeds produced by open and closed flowers, respectively) were color-coded and placed in depots, allowing the ants to redistribute them. Five months later, seedlings with an attached seed coat bearing the intact color-coding, were surveyed around the depots. Radial distances and angles were recorded for each seedling (N = 67 and 81 seedlings arising from open and closed flowers, respectively). The results of the model give an asymptotic growth rate of 1.06 per season and an asymptotic rate of spread of 8.36 cm per season. There is a high correlation (r = 0.99) between elasticity of growth rate and elasticity of rate of spread of the population. Both rates are most sensitive to changes in stasis of juveniles during the dry season. However, most interesting is the analysis that revealed that population spread is more sensitive than in situ population growth to demographic rates of seedlings arising from open flowers. The analysis suggests a new way of thinking about ecological functions of multiple modes of reproduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-51
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 25 2005


  • Calathea micans
  • Cleistogamy
  • Dispersal kernel
  • Elasticity
  • Mixed reproductive strategy
  • Periodic population projection matrix
  • Seasonal demography
  • Wave speed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Ecology


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