, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 415-435
Date: 27 Sep 2013

Experimental Seed Predator Removal Reveals Shifting Importance of Predation and Dispersal Limitation in Early Life History Stages of Tropical Forest Trees

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Recruitment limitation of trees in tropical forests can occur because of high rates of seed predation or low rates of seed dispersal, but the degree to which limitation is influenced by variation in seed predator abundance, and hence variation in seed predation and dispersal, is not well understood. We experimentally reduced the density of a granivorous small mammal (Heteromys desmarestianus) by 90 % to assess the degree to which its rates of seed predation and dispersal limit seed to seedling survival of nine species of trees in a Neotropical lowland forest. Overall, the proportion of seeds that germinated was influenced more by high rates of predation than by limited dispersal. Reduction in density of H. desmarestianus resulted in an order of magnitude decrease in fruit removal rates and an order of magnitude increase in both the absolute and relative numbers of seeds that germinated. However, the proportion of seeds that were cached remained relatively constant across all periods and between control grids and removal plots. In removal plots, H. desmarestianus dispersed and cached about 10 % of the fruits they handled, of which approximately 25 % germinated. This was 2 to 3 times greater than the germination rates of undispersed seeds, and for two species dispersed seeds were the only ones that germinated. The results suggest the simultaneous occurrence of both seed predation and dispersal limitation for trees with animal-dispersed seeds, but there may also be a hierarchy of importance in the relative strength of these two mechanisms that is determined by the dynamics of seed predator populations.