Competition, trophic interactions and abiotic disturbances play important roles in governing plant population dynamics, yet few studies have addressed their relative contributions or interacting effects. We used Life Table Response Experiment (LTRE) analysis, coupled with stochastic analyses, to examine how a major abiotic disturbance, flooding, influences the fitness and population growth of a common riparian plant, Mimulus guttatus, and how this effect compares and interacts with that exerted by herbivory. We also extended LTRE analysis to include nested factors, which enabled us to examine differences across experimental sites. These spatial contributions to changes in population growth rate, λ, were compared and contrasted with those derived for year and experimental treatments. Flooding had direct positive impacts on population growth, while protection from herbivory benefited plants in both flooded and non-flooded areas. Spatial variation in plant performance was also substantial, with greater variation across experimental sites than temporal variation across years. Our stochastic analysis revealed that the impact of herbivores on population growth was much greater when the environment fluctuated between years with and without flooding than in more constant environments. Both flooding and herbivory exerted the majority of their impacts on plant performance via changes in adult summer survival. For flooded sites, this was surprising, given the small difference in summer survival between control and herbivore-exclusion treatments, and results from the high sensitivity of population growth to adult survival. The importance of herbivory in flooded sites would have not been discerned had we not considered how adult survival interacts with other stages of the M. guttatus life cycle. Thus, in order to increase ecological understanding associated with shifts in community dynamics, experimental results should be placed in a life-history context. Within disturbance-driven systems, the direct abiotic effects of factors such as flooding play a critical role in determining population dynamics. However, the biotic interactions that change as a consequence of disturbance can have equal and lasting impacts on population growth. © 2006 The Authors.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Journal of Ecology
Elderd, B., & Doak, D. (2006). Comparing the direct and community-mediated effects of disturbance on plant population dynamics: Flooding, herbivory and Mimulus guttatus. Journal of Ecology, 94 (3), 656-669. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2745.2006.01115.x