Environmental correlates of seed weight of tropical semi-arid woody species

  • Adriana dos Santos CostaEmail author
  • Juliana Stropp
  • Nicolli Albuquerque de Carvalho
  • Fernanda Alves-Martins
  • Richard J. Ladle
  • Ana C. M. Malhado
Regular Article



The survival and distribution of plant species in the extreme environmental conditions of semi-arid regions is strongly dependent on traits associated with drought resistance. Seed weight may be particularly important, since larger seeds are predicted to promote survival in harsh environments, especially those of low soil moisture. Here, we test this hypothesis using data on the seed weight of 277 woody plant species in the semi-arid Caatinga biome of northeast Brazil.


We used Structural Equation Models (SEM) to test for associations between seed weight and biophysical conditions, including temperature, precipitation, climatic seasonality, soil-vegetation interaction and soil compaction.


Species occurrence data were geographically biased due to large areas of the biome that remain under-collected. The strongest statistical association was between seed weight and soil compaction, with mean temperature of the driest quarter and aridity directly influencing soil compaction (and indirectly influencing seed weight).


We conclude that the larger seeds of woody species in the Caatinga are primarily an adaptation to compacted soil, uneven distribution of rainfall and high temperatures, intrinsic conditions of the Caatinga biome.


Arid and semi-arid Dry forest Seasonality Compaction Rainfall Vegetation 



This study was funded by the Brazilian Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) - Finance Code 001. Ana Malhado and Richard Ladle are supported by Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) grants (#310953/2014-6, #310349/2015-0, #309980/2018-6). JS was funded by the CNPq pos-doctoral fellowship (#434391/2016-6). FAM was funded by a CAPES post-doctoral fellowship (#120147/2016-01). We would like to thank Dr. Marcelo Freire Moro and Dr. Inara Roberta Leal for valuable comments and suggestions.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4341_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (610 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 610 kb)
11104_2019_4341_MOESM2_ESM.xls (2.1 mb)
ESM 2 (XLS 2142 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adriana dos Santos Costa
    • 1
    Email author
  • Juliana Stropp
    • 1
  • Nicolli Albuquerque de Carvalho
    • 1
  • Fernanda Alves-Martins
    • 2
  • Richard J. Ladle
    • 1
  • Ana C. M. Malhado
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Biological and Health SciencesFederal University of AlagoasMaceióBrazil
  2. 2.Departament of Biogeography and Global ChangeMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (MNCN-CSIC)MadridSpain

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