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Spatiotemporal patterns of seed dispersal in a wind-dispersed Mediterranean tree (Acer opalus subsp. granatense): implications for regeneration

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Seed dispersal can severely limit the quantity of plant recruits and their spatial distribution. However, our understanding of the role of dispersal in regeneration dynamics is limited by the lack of knowledge of seed deposition patterns in space and time. In this paper, we analyse the spatiotemporal variability of seed dispersal patterns in the Mediterranean maple, Acer opalus subsp. granatense, by monitoring seed rain along two years at a broad spatial scale (2 mountain ranges, 2 populations per range, 4 microhabitats per population). We quantified seed limitation and its components (source and dispersal limitation), and explored dispersal limitation in space by analysing dispersal distances, seed aggregation, and microhabitat seed distribution. Acer opalus subsp. granatense was strongly seed-limited throughout the gradients explored, being always dispersal limitation much higher than source limitation. The distribution of seeds with distance from adult individuals was leptokurtic and right-skewed in all populations, being both kurtosis and skewness higher the year of the highest seed production. Dispersal distances were shorter than expected by random in the four populations, which suggests distance-limited dispersal. Dispersal patterns were highly aggregated and showed a preferential direction around adults. At the microhabitat scale, most seeds accumulated under adult maples. However, there were no more seeds under trees and shrubs other than maple than in open interspaces, implying that established vegetation does not disrupt patterns of seed deposition by physically trapping seeds. When compared with patterns of seedling establishment, limited dispersal ability and inter-annual spatial concordance in seed rain patterns suggest that several potentially safe sites for recruitment have a very low probability of receiving seeds in most maple populations. These findings are especially relevant for rare species such as Acer opalus subsp. granatense, and illustrate how dispersal studies are not only crucial for our understanding of plant population dynamics but also to provide conservation directions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2007

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