Effect of reproductive modes and environmental heterogeneity in the population dynamics of a geographically widespread clonal desert cactus

María C. Mandujano, Jordan Golubov, Laura F. Huenneke

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46 Scopus citations


The dynamics of plant populations in arid environments are largely affected by the unpredictable environmental conditions and are fine-tuned by biotic factors, such as modes of recruitment. A single species must cope with both spatial and temporal heterogeneity that trigger pulses of sexual and clonal establishment throughout its distributional range. We studied two populations of the clonal, purple prickly pear cactus, Opuntia macrocentra, in order to contrast the factors responsible for the population dynamics of a common, widely distributed species. The study sites were located in protected areas that correspond to extreme latitudinal locations for this species within the Chihuahuan Desert. We studied both populations for four consecutive years and determined the demographic consequences of environmental variability and the mode of reproduction using matrix population models, life table response experiments (LTREs), and loop and perturbation analyses. Although both populations seemed fairly stable (population growth rate, λ∼1), different demographic parameters and different life cycle routes were responsible for this stability in each population. In the southernmost population (MBR) LTRE and loop and elasticity analyses showed that stasis is the demographic process with the highest contributions to λ, followed by sexual reproduction, and clonal propagation contributed the least. The northern population (CR) had both higher elasticities and larger contributions of stasis, followed by clonal propagation and sexual recruitment. Loop analysis also showed that individuals in CR have more paths to complete a life cycle than those in MBR. As a consequence, each population differed in life history traits (e.g., size class structure, size at sexual maturity, and reproductive value). Numerical perturbation analyses showed a small effect of the seed bank on the λ of both populations, while the transition from seeds to seedlings had an important effect mainly in the northern population. Clonal propagation (higher survival and higher contributions to vital rates) seems to be more important for maintaining populations over long time periods than sexual reproduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-153
Number of pages13
JournalPopulation Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007


  • Cactaceae
  • Clonal growth
  • Demography
  • LTRE analysis
  • Life history traits
  • Loop analysis
  • Matrix models
  • Opuntia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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