Classical theory predicts a high demographic vulnerability and diminished performance of peripheral plant populations, but recent studies highlight the fact that environmental factors may override that geographical pattern. In this study, we compare the density, population structure and population dynamics of the boreo-alpine Silene acaulis (Caryophyllaceae) in two locations at its southern European distribution limit, using matrix projection models. One population was close to the species' lower altitudinal limit, and thus exposed to more ecologically marginal conditions (higher intraspecific competition and temperature) than the population higher up. The low-altitude population was sparser and its members were older as a result of lower recruitment and survival of new individuals. Additionally, this population's growth rate was lower, mainly due to a shorter permanence of large plants. The contrasting demographic differences between two closely located, southern peripheral populations highlight the importance of distinguishing between geographical periphery and ecological marginality.
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