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Large-scale geographical trends in fruit traits of vertebrate-dispersed temperate plants

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Abstract Aim 

To assess large-scale geographical trends in the character of fleshy, vertebrate-dispersed fruits. Location 

Europe between central Sweden and southern Spain. Methods 

Analyses of fruit of sixty-three plant species from twenty-nine families were compiled from four regional data sets. Four structural and five chemical fruit traits were analysed intraspecifically to control rigorously for phylogenetic lineage effects. Trends were examined in relation to various biological features of the considered species. Results 

Contents of soluble carbohydrate and lipids decreased markedly northwards. Fruit diameter and fresh mass peaked at the wettest site, while the pulp water content remained more constant throughout the gradient than any other fruit trait. Ash content, seed number and seed mass did not change, while the nitrogen content showed conflicting trends. No relation was detected between observed variation in fruit traits and fruit type, fruit colour, ripening season, plant growth form, leaf longevity, or geographical distribution of the considered plant species. Main conclusions 

Considerable intraspecific variability exists in vertebrate-dispersed fruits on large geographical scales. Climate presumably affects particularly those traits related to carbon and water gain and storage. Most research on fruit–frugivore interactions has been carried out on small spatial scales and failed to find matchings between frugivore communities and the character of fleshy fruits. I suggest that explicitly addressed large-scale surveys on the geographical variability of fruits and their disperser assemblages are needed to elucidate their spatial patterns and to determine the extent to which fleshy fruit traits are shaped by animals and/or abiotic factors.

Keywords: Abiotic environment; climate; fleshy fruits; fruit–frugivore interactions; intraspecific variability; large-scale geography; phylogenetic constraints

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2003

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