Research Papers

Reproductive biology of the critically endangered tropical tree Talbotiella gentii

Published in: Southern Forests: a Journal of Forest Science
Volume 77, issue 2, 2015, pages: 153–163
DOI: 10.2989/20702620.2014.1001674
Author(s): Daniel DomprehDepartment of Plant and Soil Science, UK, Michael D SwaineDepartment of Plant and Soil Science, UK, Christopher C WilcockDepartment of Plant and Soil Science, UK

Abstract

Talbotiella gentii is a critically endangered caesalpiniaceous legume endemic to Ghana, restricted in distribution to the margins of the forest zone where there has been extensive fire damage in recent decades. It occurs as isolated, near-monospecific populations, some of which show little seedling regeneration. We studied its reproduction to determine limitations that might inform efforts to prevent its extinction. We report on flowering phenology, pollen dispersal and germination, fruit and seed set, seed size and germination, and seedling survival, using controlled and open pollination. Talbotiella gentii flowers profusely in most years. Although the flowers are coloured and scented, no animal pollinators were observed but pollen can be dispersed by wind. In open pollination, the number of pollen grains on stigmas and their germination was sufficient to fertilise the three ovules, despite competition from heavy stigmatic infestation by fungal spores and hyphae. Fruit set and seed set were low due to high flower losses and fruit abortion during development but ripe seeds showed high germination. Controlled pollination experiments (self, supplemented self, and intra- and inter-population crosses) showed that, while the species is self-compatible, selfing was the least successful treatment in all of the above steps of reproduction, whereas cross-pollination enhanced most steps, the more so for inter-population crosses. Seed size was notably greater in inter-population crosses and was positively correlated with genetic distance of the cross. The larger seeds associated with cross-pollination showed higher germination and seedling survival in the nursery. We conclude that limitations to natural reproduction in T. gentii are principally due to processes between pollen germination and fruit and seed set, including pollen quality (low genetic diversity and inbreeding), fertilisation rates, flower and fruit abortion, and resource limitation. Low seed size in open and self pollination may have implications for seedling establishment. Species fitness might be improved by introducing other genotypes to existing populations, but in situ protection of the populations is essential in the medium term.

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