Seed production is critical to the persistence of most flowering plant populations, but may be strongly pollen limited. To what extent long-lived plants can compensate pollen limitation by increasing future reproduction is poorly understood. We tested for compensation in two Dactylorhiza species that differ in reproductive investment by experimentally reducing and increasing pollination in two independent annual cohorts and monitoring demographic responses in the subsequent 2 years for the 2014 cohort and in 1 year for the 2015 cohort. Demographic rates in the second year were significantly affected by pollination treatment in both species, but specific responses differed both between species and years. There was no effect of pollination treatment on demographic responses in the third year. In sum, effects were too weak to make up for the lost reproduction; total fruit production across all 3 years was by far highest in the increased pollination treatment in both species. These results show that long-lived plants do not necessarily compensate for pollen limitation by increasing future reproduction. It further suggests that even periodic declines in pollination rates may have severe demographic consequences, particularly in populations where germination is not density dependent. This has implications for predicting plant population viability in response to changes in pollination intensity.
Keywords: Cost of reproduction; Demographic compensation; Long-lived perennial; Orchidaceae; Pollen limitation.