Poa alpina grass plays a predominant role across the entire range of primary succession on alpine glacier forelands. One demographic factor that reacts clearly to changing environmental conditions is reproduction. Using permanent plot data, the complete life cycle of Poa alpina was studied along a successional gradient of the Rotmoos glacier foreland (2300–2400 m a.s.l., Central Alps, Austria) over a period of three years. We used matrix modeling to study the importance of the generation of plantlets and seedlings along the successional gradient and their ability to form adult individuals, and we hypothesized that plantlets develop faster to adults than seedlings because they start already with 3–4 developed leaves.
The study showed that plantlet and seedling fecundities of Poa alpina changed differently in the course of succession: seedling establishment was observed over the entire range of the successional stages, whereas plantlet establishment almost vanished with ongoing succession. In the pioneer stage, plantlets were more important than reproduction by seedlings. But we found neither a higher survival rate nor a significant advantage in development to adults for plantlets compared to seedlings. Opportunistic reproduction—plantlets under harsh abiotic conditions, seeds under increasing density—may therefore explain the fact that the species is ubiquitous along the whole glacier foreland.