The ability of species to establish new populations at unoccupied sites is a critical feature in the maintenance of biological diversity, and it has taken on new importance as a result of global climate change and expected changes in species distribution. To examine the dispersal potential of plant species, seeds of four annual plant species were experimentally dispersed 40 to 600 m from existing populations in Massachusetts (U.S.A.) to 34 nearby unoccupied but apparently suitable sites. At three of these sites new populations were established that persisted for four generations and expanded slowly in area. At seven sites, a small initial population eventually died out. At the 24 other sites, new populations did not become established, indicating that the sites were in some way unsuitable, that not enough seeds arrived, or that conditions suitable for seed germination do not occur every year. These results suggest that some species may be unable to disperse naturally out of their existing ranges in response to global climate change, particularly if habitat fragmentation creates barriers to dispersal. These species may have to be assisted to reach suitable sites nearby to prevent their extinction in the wild.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1992
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