Dispersal constraints for the conservation of the grassland herb Thymus pulegioides L. in a highly fragmented agricultural landscape

An Vanden Broeck, Tobias Ceulemans, Gunter Kathagen, Maurice Hoffmann, Olivier Honnay, Joachim Mergeay

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    Species-rich grassland communities are one of the most important habitats for biodiversity and of high conservation priority in Europe. Restoration actions are mainly focused on the improvement of abiotic conditions, such as nutrient depletion techniques, and are generally based on the assumption that the target community will re-establish at the restored site when the target species exist in the neighborhood. Information on the contemporary seed-dispersal range is therefore crucial to develop effective conservation measures. Here, we investigated the contemporary long-distance seed dispersal and genetic structure of the grassland herb Thymus pulegioides in an intensively managed agricultural landscape in Flanders (Northern Belgium). Assignment tests based on Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms revealed very low levels of effective seed dispersal between populations although seed availability and seed viability was not a limiting factor. The process of fragmentation has resulted in a high population differentiation and without further incoming gene flow the remnant populations are prone to further genetic erosion and perhaps extinction. Our findings illustrate that restoring suitable abiotic habitat conditions in the neighborhood of existing populations does likely not guarantee colonization for this grassland specialist. For the survival of the species, existing populations should be functionally connected and seed addition may be necessary for successful conservation to overcome dispersal-limitation.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalConservation Genetics
    Pages (from-to)765-776
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Thematic list

    • Species and biotopes

    EWI Biomedical sciences

    • B004-botany
    • B003-ecology

    Taxonomic list

    • plants (Plantae)

    Geographic list

    • Flanders


    • genetic technologies
    • fieldwork (observations and sampling)

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