Plant species with wide distributions may differ in their population dynamics across their range, especially in contrasting habitats. Most tiller recruitment of perennial grasses occurs vegetatively from the belowground bud bank rather than from seed. Seed reproduction often occurs under a narrower range of environmental conditions than vegetative reproduction. As a result flowering and seedling recruitment patterns of a species often differ between contrasting habitats and across its range. How vegetative reproduction and bud bank dynamics of a species vary between contrasting habitats has not been well studied and could explain the differences in its persistence and productivity between habitats. Therefore, the vegetative reproduction and dynamics of Andropogon gerardii, a dominant C4 perennial grass of the Great Plains of North America, were compared between tallgrass and northern mixedgrass prairie habitats. Bud production and tiller recruitment in 10 populations were examined throughout an annual growing cycle in the northern mixedgrass prairie of South Dakota. Bud bank characteristics, and individual and population performance were compared with previous work conducted in Kansas tallgrass prairie. Stage-structured matrix models examined population growth rates. Andropogon gerardii tillers produced lower numbers of buds and had lower flowering rates in mixedgrass prairie populations. The annual phenology of bud and tiller development was also contracted to fit within the shorter growing season in northern mixedgrass prairie. However, bud longevity and bud bank age structure were similar between habitats, both having buds that lived for > 2 y and multi-aged bud banks. Similar population growth rates occurred in both habitats despite lower individual performance of both flowering and vegetative reproductive capacity (i.e., bud production) in mixedgrass prairie populations. Lower regional productivity of A. gerardii in northern mixedgrass prairie than in tallgrass prairie does not appear to be due to differences in bud and tiller population growth. Instead, sparse or patchy suitable habitat and/or reduction in tiller size may explain its reduced productivity. Lower population growth rates may be observed in other habitats or in years with harsher environmental conditions that further lower individual performance.
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Vol. 174 • No. 1