Tropical Plant Biology

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 20-33

First online:

Spatial Scales of Pollen and Seed-Mediated Gene Flow in Tropical Rain Forest Trees

  • Christopher W. DickAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Herbarium, University of MichiganSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute Email author 
  • , Olivier J. HardyAffiliated withBehavioural and Evolutionary Ecology Unit, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • , F. Andrew JonesAffiliated withSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • , Rémy J. PetitAffiliated withInstitut National de la Recherche Agronomique, UMR Biodiversity, Genes and Communities

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Gene flow via seed and pollen is a primary determinant of genetic and species diversity in plant communities at different spatial scales. This paper reviews studies of gene flow and population genetic structure in tropical rain forest trees and places them in ecological and biogeographic context. Although much pollination is among nearest neighbors, an increasing number of genetic studies report pollination ranging from 0.5–14 km for canopy tree species, resulting in extensive breeding areas in disturbed and undisturbed rain forest. Direct genetic measures of seed dispersal are still rare; however, studies of fine scale spatial genetic structure (SGS) indicate that the bulk of effective seed dispersal occurs at local scales, and we found no difference in SGS (Sp statistic) between temperate (N = 24 species) and tropical forest trees (N = 15). Our analysis did find significantly higher genetic differentiation in tropical trees (F ST = 0.177; N = 42) than in temperate forest trees (F ST = 0.116; N = 82). This may be due to the fact that tropical trees experience low but significant rates of self-fertilization and bi-parental inbreeding, whereas half of the temperate tree species in our survey are wind pollinated and are more strictly allogamous. Genetic drift may also be more pronounced in tropical trees due to the low population densities of most species.


Mating system Pollination Seed dispersal Spatial genetic structure Population differentiation