Relative to mammals and birds, little is known about the mortality trajectories of perennial plants, as there are few long-term demographic studies following multiple yearly cohorts from birth to death. This is particularly important because if reproductively mature individuals show actuarial senescence, current estimations of life spans assuming constant survival would be incorrect. There is also a lack of studies documenting how life history trade-offs and disturbance influence the mortality trajectories of plants. We conducted Bayesian survival trajectory analyses (BaSTA) of a 33-year individual-based dataset of Pulsatilla vulgaris
. Mortality trajectories corresponded to “Type III” survivorship patterns, with rapidly decreasing annual mortality rates for young plants, but with constant mortality for reproductively mature individuals. We found trade-off effects resulting in a cost of growth for non-reproductive plants but no apparent cost of reproduction. Contrarily to our expectation, young plants that had previously shrunk in size had a lower mortality. However, accounting for trade-offs and disturbance only had minor effects on the mortality trajectories. We conclude that BaSTA is a useful tool for assessing mortality patterns in plants if only partial age information is available. Furthermore, if constant mortality is a general pattern in polycarpic plants, long-term studies may not be necessary to assess their age-dependent demography.
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