, Volume 198, Issue 1, pp 27-35
Date: 18 Nov 2007

Roles of cottony hairs in directed seed dispersal in riparian willows

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Willows usually establish on wet substrates with fine sediments at sites that are created by large disturbances, but suitable microsites are spatially and temporally limited. Thus, we hypothesized that willow seeds are selectively dispersed to suitable microsites, such as those with a wet substrate, rather than unsuitable microsites, such as those with a dry substrate, with seedling establishment mediated by the cottony hairs attached to seeds (directed dispersal). To test our hypothesis, we compared several recruitment-related traits, including buoyancy, germination, and trapping at favorable microsites, in seeds of the riparian willows Salix sachalinensis and S. integra with and without cottony hairs in laboratory and field experiments. In both field and laboratory experiments, more seeds with cottony hairs were trapped in water and wet sand than in dry sand, in which no seeds of either species germinated. These results indicate that cottony hairs facilitate the recruitment of seeds to microsites favorable for seed germination and help seeds avoid unfavorable microsites. On the water surface, 17.6% of S. sachalinensis seeds and 68.0% S. integra seeds with cottony hairs floated for more than 6 days, whereas all seeds without cottony hairs sank immediately after being placed on the water surface. These results suggest that cottony hairs facilitate long-distance dispersal via flowing water and also help avoid germination under water, where willow seedlings fail to establish. Seeds of the two willow species were released from the cottony hairs and germinated immediately after the seeds were placed on wet sand, but not after placement on water or dry sand. These results suggest that the seeds are released from the cottony hairs when the hairs become wet and the seeds are striking to a suitable microsite for seedling establishment, such as wet sand. In riparian willows, the cottony hairs promote directed dispersal by moving seeds to discrete and predictable microsites where the seedling establishment is disproportionately high.