Sexual reproduction is important for the growth of populations and the maintenance of genetic diversity. Several steps are involved in the sexual reproduction pathway of plants: the production of flowers, the production of seeds and the establishment of seedlings from seeds. In this paper we quantify the relative importance and spatiotemporal variability of these different steps for four grassland perennials: Centaurea jacea, Cirsium dissectum, Hypochaeris radicata and Succisa pratensis. We compared undisturbed meadows with meadows where the top soil layer had been removed as a restoration measure. Data on the number of flower heads per flowering rosette, the numbers of flowers and seeds per flower head, and the seedling establishment probabilities per seed were collected by field observations and experiments in several sites and years. Combination of these data shows that H. radicata and S. pratensis have higher recruitment rates (1.9 and 3.3 seedlings per year per flowering rosette, respectively) than the more clonal C. dissectum and C. jacea (0.027 and 0.23, respectively). Seedling establishment is the major bottleneck for successful sexual reproduction in all species. Large losses also occurred due to failing seed set in C. dissectum. Comparison of the coefficients of variation per step in space and time revealed that spatiotemporal variability was largest in seedling establishment, followed closely by flower head production and seed set. © 2005 Gesellschaft für Ökologie. Published by Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.
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