, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 133-144

First online:

Why are adaptations for long-range seed dispersal rare in desert plants?

  • Stephen FllnerAffiliated withSection of Ecology and Systematics, Cornell UniversityCenter for Applied Mathematics, Cornell University
  • , Avi ShmidaAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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The rarity of long-range seed dispersal (telechory) and commonness of antitelechory in desert plants are examined in light of contemporary mathematical theories of the evolution of dispersal and germination behaviors. Analysis of dispersal 3-habitat relationships in the flora of Israel supports the general trend towards atelechory in deserts; in particular epizoochory and tumbleweeds are practically absent from the desert and heterocarpy is centered in the Mediterranean region. In contradiction to the accepted “mother-site” theory, we find that (a) there is a high turnover in microscale spatial pattern among antitelechoric species; (b) antitelechoric (especially basicarpic) species are widespread and dominant in the desert vegetation of Israel; (c) amphicary and geocary are rare in the desert flora of Israel.

We argue that the openness of desert vegetation and the patterns of climatic variation favor atelechory while antitelechory is generally a side-effect of mechanisms whose adaptive value is not directly related to dispersal. Thus for example the desert plants of Israel have evolved a variety of dispersal-restricting seed-containers that protect the seed from predation and flooding, regulate the within-season timing of germination, and spread dispersal and germination over several years.