, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 347-351

First online:

Effects of seed size on seedling size in Virola surinamensis; a within and between tree analysis

  • Henry F. HoweAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Iowa
  • , Wayne M. RichterAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Iowa

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We conducted a greenhouse study of the effects of initial seed mass on seedling characteristics in a Panamanian population of Virola surinamensis, a canopy tree in which mean seed mass of different individuals ranges from 1.34 to 4.04g. The system is of particular interest because birds preferentially eat fruits of small-seeded plants, leaving seedlings of large-seeded individuals under conditions of potentially severe sibling competition (Howe and Vande Kerckhove 1980).

Effects of differences of mean seed mass between trees are explored using an analysis of variance, while effects of seed-mass variation within crops are demonstrated with a regression analysis. A two-way analysis of variance decisively shows effects of parental source and light condition on seedling height, leaf length, and dry shoot mass (all P<0.0001). A posteriori tests show that differences in seedling characteristics reflect differences in initial seed mass, with especially strong differences apparent in shoot mass. Regression of seedling characteristics on initial seed mass shows that variation of seed size within a crop is sufficient to influence shoot mass at 15 weeks (P<0.0001).

Effects of size differences of seeds that land adjacent to each other, either under the parent or in monkey droppings, are documented with growth of pairs of seedlings in pots. Differences in shoot height and mass at 15 weeks are evident when seeds of average size differ by only 0.2 g, and dramatic differences are evident when paired seeds differ by an average of 1.5 g. Seedlings grow more when isolated than when planted with conspecifics.

These experimental results offer indirect support for the hypothesis that small-seeded Virola parents secure an advantage in reproduction through differential dispersal, while large-seeded plants produce more competitive seedlings under their own crowns — an advantage most likely to be of importance when frugivores are scarce.