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Because of the potentially detrimental effects of seed production on adult survivorship and growth, moderate flower harvesting may have little negative impact on population growth of long-lived perennial plants such as Limonium carolinianum (Walter) Britton. We examined this by collecting data on survivorship, growth, and fecundity of an unharvested population over a period of 5 years and conducted a controlled experiment to examine the effect of harvesting on adult survivorship and growth over a 3-year period. Data were summarized in the form of a stage structured matrix population model with a stochastic element that incorporated year-to-year variation in transition probabilities. Contrary to our original hypothesis, we found that preventing seed set through removal of flowers did not increase adult survivorship or growth. By determining the harvest level that reduced population growth rate to 1.0, we estimated the maximum sustainable harvest level to be 16%, a value that is approximately half that of reported harvest levels on accessible marshes in the study area. In spite of this, the reported harvest levels are unlikely to drive local populations to extinction in the foreseeable future. Providing the adult population size is >100 and harvest levels are <90%, time to local extinction will exceed 100 years. This is a function of the very high survivorship of adults in this species and the fact that harvesting has no negative impact on adult survivorship or growth. However, because of the long preadult phase in this species (8–9 years) and the fact that fecundity of young adults is low, recovery from overharvesting is extremely slow. Adult population size can be reduced to 25% of its original value in 7 years at high harvest levels, but it will take 34 years on average to recover once harvesting is terminated.


This article was originally published in Canadian Journal of Botany, 80(8): 841-851. © 2002 National Research Council. Reproduced with permission