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Scatter-and clump-dispersal and seedling demography: hypothesis and implications

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Fruit-eating animals deposit viable seeds in patterns that determine the conditions under which seeds and seedlings live or die. Many tree species are scatter-dispersed by birds, bats, or other small frugivores that regurgitate, defecate, or drop seeds singly or in pairs. These scatterdispersed plant species normally recruit as isolated individuals, and are unlikely to evolve exceptional resistance to herbivores, pathogens, or to other sources of density-dependent seed or seedling mortality. Other tree species are clump-dispersed by larger terrestrial or arboreal frugivores that defecate seeds in masses which produce bouquets of seedlings. Because their seeds invariably germinate in close proximity to other seedlings, clump-dispersed species necessarily evolve chemical or mechanical defenses against seed predators, pathogens, and herbivores that act in a densitydependent manner.

Population and genetic attributes should reflect this basic dichotomy in the conditions of seedling recruitment. I predict that seedlings of scatter-dispersed species rarely survive near parents or in dense aggregations under frugivore roosts. Seed dispersal should be mandatory, often to light gaps or other special habitats. Outbred adults and juveniles are expected to exist at low densities in loose aggregations or random distributions. Seedlings of clump-dispersed trees are pre-adapted for survival in dense aggregations near parents, as well as in fecal clumps. Substantial recruitment of juveniles and young adults should occur from undispersed seeds under and near parent trees. Such species should be common, highly aggregated, and show strong genetic family structure. Because recruitment requires dispersal, scatter-dispersed plant species should be especially vulnerable to loss of dispersal agents. Because offspring consistently recruit near parents, clump-dispersed plants should be less vulnerable to temporary loss of dispersal agents.

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Howe, H.F. Scatter-and clump-dispersal and seedling demography: hypothesis and implications. Oecologia 79, 417–426 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00384323

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