The effective size of annual plant populations: the interaction of a seed bank with fluctuating population size in maintaining genetic variation

Am Nat. 2002 Aug;160(2):195-204. doi: 10.1086/341017.


Many annual plant populations undergo dramatic fluctuations in size. Such fluctuations can result in the loss of genetic variability. Here I formalize the potential for a seed bank to buffer against such genetic loss. The average time to seed germination (T) defines the generation time of "annuals" with a seed bank, and assuming random seed germination, I show that, under otherwise ideal conditions, a population's effective size (Ne) equals NT, where N is the number of adult plants. This result supports the general principle that lengthening the prereproductive period increases Ne. When adult numbers vary, Ne at any time depends on N and on the numbers contributing to the seed bank in previous seasons. Averaging these effects over time gives Ne approximately Nh + (T - 1)Na, where Nh and Na are the harmonic and arithmetic means of the adult population. Thus if T >> 1, Ne is determined primarily by Na. Simulations showed that until fluctuations in N are large (>25x) this relationship is accurate. I extended the theory to incorporate a selfing rate (S) and reproductive variance (I) through seed production (k), outcrossed pollen (m), and variation in selfing rate: Ne = NT(1 -S/2)/(1 + I) = NT/[1 + FIS)(1 + I)]. Reproductive variance (I) equals [Ik(1 + S)2 + IM(1 - S)2 + 2(1 - S2)Ikm = S2IS(1 + Ik)]/4, , where Ij is the standardized variance (Vj/j2) of factor j and Ikm is the standardized covariance between k and m. These results are applicable to other organisms with a similar life history, such as freshwater crustaceans with diapausing eggs (e.g., tadpole shrimp, clam shrimp, and fairy shrimp) and other semelparous species with discrete breeding seasons and a variable maturation time (e.g., Pacific salmon).