Effect of population size, tree diameter and crown position on viable seed output per cone of the tropical conifer Widdringtonia whytei in Malawi.
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The tropical montane conifer tree Widdringtonia whytei is found in small fragments on Mulanje Mountain in Malawi. A study was conducted with the objectives of determining the effect of population size, tree stem diameter and crown position on the proportion of viable seeds per cone produced by W. whytei at three sites (Sombani, Chambe and Lichenya) on Mulanje Mountain. Three population sizes, namely small (fragments with =10 cone-bearing trees), medium (fragments with 11 20 cone-bearing trees) and large (fragments with >20 cone-bearing trees) and isolated trees were sampled at each study site. In each fragment, four cone-bearing trees were randomly located, 20 mature cones were collected from each tree and the viability of seeds was tested. Only 23% of the seeds per cone were viable but seed viability per cone was highly variable among fragments. Large fragment populations produced the highest proportion of viable seeds per cone (30%), followed by similar proportions in small fragments (28.3%) and isolated trees (26.1%), with the lowest proportions in medium-sized fragments (18.7%). indicating a non-linear relationship between viable seed output per cone and population size. Tree stem diameter and crown position had no effect on the proportion of viable seeds per cone. Further studies are needed to identify the factors that lead to the low viable seed output per cone, and how this influences whole-tree seed production in W. whytei
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