Early Successional Microhabitats Allow the Persistence of Endangered Plants in Coastal Sand Dunes
Many species are adapted to disturbance and occur within dynamic, mosaic landscapes that contain early and late successional microhabitats. Human modification of disturbance regimes alters the availability of microhabitats and may affect the viability of species in these ecosystems. Because restoring historical disturbance regimes is typically expensive and requires action at large spatial scales, such restoration projects must be justified by linking the persistence of species with successional microhabitats. Coastal sand dune ecosystems worldwide are characterized by their endemic biodiversity and frequent disturbance. Dune-stabilizing invasive plants alter successional dynamics and may threaten species in these ecosystems. We examined the distribution and population dynamics of two federally endangered plant species, the annual Layia carnosa and the perennial Lupinus tidestromii, within a dune ecosystem in northern California, USA. We parameterized a matrix population model for L. tidestromii and examined the magnitude by which the successional stage of the habitat (early or late) influenced population dynamics. Both species had higher frequencies and L. tidestromii had higher frequency of seedlings in early successional habitats. Lupinus tidestromii plants in early successional microhabitats had higher projected rates of population growth than those associated with stabilized, late successional habitats, due primarily to higher rates of recruitment in early successional microhabitats. These results support the idea that restoration of disturbance is critical in historically dynamic landscapes. Our results suggest that large-scale restorations are necessary to allow persistence of the endemic plant species that characterize these ecosystems.