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Effects of Vertebrate Herbivory on Clematis morefieldii, a Federally Endangered Plant

  • Author(s): Paris, Kyle
  • Boyd, Robert
  • et al.
Abstract

This study focuses on how vertebrate herbivory affects the reproductive success of Morefield’s leather flower, Clematis morefieldii, from plant emergence in spring to after fruit dispersal in autumn. Morefield’s leather flower is an endangered perennial vine found in only three counties in northeast Alabama and south Tennessee. High levels of vertebrate herbivory damage have been observed on these plants. Suspected leaf and seed herbivores include white-tailed deer, rabbits, and small rodents. High levels of herbivory have the potential to reduce plant vigor, fruit production, and regeneration, thereby posing a serious threat to the future viability of plant populations. Herbivory studies include a reproductive attrition and post dispersal achene predation study along with herbivory surveys at all accessible sites. The reproductive attrition and post-dispersal achene predation studies are all conducted at a large population in Madison Co., AL, and the herbivory surveys should give insight into whether or not similar herbivory problems are occurring at other populations. The reproductive attrition study documents the number of flower buds producing achenes and also records the probable cause for those buds that were not successful. Vegetative herbivory has also been recorded for plants in the reproductive attrition study in an attempt to correlate high levels of herbivory with reduced reproductive effort. Achenes in the post-dispersal achene study are being eaten by unknown herbivores, and documentation of these herbivores is being attempted. Information gathered in this study will allow managers of this species to understand some of the factors that ultimately can limit the long-term viability of Morefield’s leather flower populations.

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