Frequency-dependent fitness and reproductive dynamics contribute to habitat segregation in sympatric jewelflowers

Authors: Kyle Christie and Sharon Y. Strauss

Coexistence results from a complex suite of past and contemporary processes including biogeographic history, adaptation, ecological interactions and reproductive dynamics. Here we explore drivers of local micro-parapatry in which two closely related and reproductively isolated Streptanthus species (jewelflower, Brassicaceae) inhabit continuous or adjacent habitat patches and occur within seed dispersal range, yet rarely overlap in fine-scale distribution. We find some evidence for abiotic niche partitioning and local adaptation, however differential survival across habitats cannot fully explain the scarcity of coexistence. Competition may also reduce the fitness of individuals migrating into occupied habitats, yet its effects are insufficient to drive competitive exclusion. Experimental migrants suffered reduced seed production and seed viability at sites occupied by heterospecifics, and we infer that heterospecific pollen transfer by shared pollinators contributes to wasted gametes when the two congeners come into contact. A minority disadvantage may reduce effective colonization of patches already occupied by heterospecifics, even when habitat patches are environmentally suitable. Differential adaptation and resource competition have often been evoked as primary drivers of habitat segregation in plants, yet negative reproductive interactions—including reproductive interference and decreased fecundity among low-frequency migrants—may also contribute to non-overlapping distributions of related species along local tension zones.

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