Effects of life history and reproduction on recruitment time lags in reintroductions of rare plants

Conservation Biology
By: , and 



Reintroductions are important components of conservation and recovery programs for rare plant species, but their long‐term success rates are poorly understood. Previous reviews of plant reintroductions focused on short‐term (e.g., ≤3 years) survival and flowering of founder individuals rather than on benchmarks of intergenerational persistence, such as seedling recruitment. However, short‐term metrics may obscure outcomes because the unique demographic properties of reintroductions, including small size and unstable stage structure, could create lags in population growth. We used time‐to‐event analysis on a database of unusually well‐monitored and long‐term (4–28 years) reintroductions of 27 rare plant species to test whether life‐history traits and population characteristics of reintroductions create time‐lagged responses in seedling recruitment (i.e., recruitment time lags [RTLs]), an important benchmark of success and indicator of persistence in reintroduced populations. Recruitment time lags were highly variable among reintroductions, ranging from <1 to 17 years after installation. Recruitment patterns matched predictions from life‐history theory with short‐lived species (fast species) exhibiting consistently shorter and less variable RTLs than long‐lived species (slow species). Long RTLs occurred in long‐lived herbs, especially in grasslands, whereas short RTLs occurred in short‐lived subtropical woody plants and annual herbs. Across plant life histories, as reproductive adult abundance increased, RTLs decreased. Highly variable RTLs were observed in species with multiple reintroduction events, suggesting local processes are just as important as life‐history strategy in determining reintroduction outcomes. Time lags in restoration outcomes highlight the need to scale success benchmarks in reintroduction monitoring programs with plant life‐history strategies and the unique demographic properties of restored populations. Drawing conclusions on the long‐term success of plant reintroduction programs is premature given that demographic processes in species with slow life‐histories take decades to unfold.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Effects of life history and reproduction on recruitment time lags in reintroductions of rare plants
Series title Conservation Biology
DOI 10.1111/cobi.13255
Volume 33
Issue 3
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 11 p.
First page 601
Last page 611