Can floral display size compensate for Allee effects caused by low population abundance and density in Synthyris Bullii (Plantaginaceae), a rare species?

Katherine Chi, Brenda Molano-Flores

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Premise of the study: Conservation seeks to address the issues of small population size, and the reproductive limitations confronting these populations. Sparse, small plant populations often suffer Allee effects such as pollinator limitation. However, some studies show that plants in sparse populations experience reduced resource competition. As a result, these plants may produce larger floral displays, which are also predicted to attract pollinators. The negative impacts from reduced floral quantity may thus be offset by improved floral quality. Methods: In a 2-yr field study, population abundance and density were quantified for 24 populations of Synthyris bullii (Plan-taginaceae), a rare prairie endemic. In each population, data were collected on inflorescence size, fruit/seed set, and seed germination. Key results Inflorescence size had a positive relationship with population inflorescence abundance and density. Fruit set and germination responded positively to floral quality (i.e., flower density). In comparison, seed set showed a positive relationship with only floral quantity (i.e., population abundance). Conclusions: Contrary to our predictions, inflorescence size and population size were not inversely related. While attractive floral displays in sparse populations potentially compensate in terms of fruit set, population abundance nevertheless plays an important role in seed set. Because floral quality and quantity differ in their ability to explain reproductive outcomes, studies should examine reproduction at several stages, otherwise the impacts of population size may be overlooked. Allee effects manifesting at a critical stage of reproduction, such as seed production, may act as a bottleneck impeding successful recruitment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-436
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Conservation
  • Demography
  • Fitness
  • Floral display
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Population biology
  • Reproductive ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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