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Pathogen mortality of tropical tree seedlings: experimental studies of the effects of dispersal distance, seedling density, and light conditions

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We present results of two experiments designed to identify the relative importance of dispersal distance, seedling density, and light conditions on pathogen-caused mortality of tropical tree seedlings. The field experiment on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, demonstrated that both an increase in dispersal distance and a decrease in seedling density reduce levels of damping-off disease among seedlings of Platypodium elegans, and that there is an interaction between the two factors. The results indicated significant variation among sites in pathogen activity and suggested that seedlings are more vulnerable to disease when establishing around their parent tree than around other conspecific trees.

The second experiment in a screened enclosure used potted seedlings of 18 wind-dispersed tree species exposed to two levels of sunlight and seedling density. The results indicated that environmental conditions similar to those in light-gaps significantly reduce pathogen activity. They also confirmed that high seedling density increases disease levels, especially under shaded conditions.

Seedlings of 16 of the 18 species experienced pathogencaused mortality, but in widely varying amounts. Seed weight was not a good predictor of a species' vulnerability to pathogens. Adult wood density, an indicator of growth rate and successional status, was inversely correlated with a species' vulnerability to pathogens. Fast-growing, colonizing species, whose seedlings require light-gaps, lacked strong resistance to seedling pathogens, relative to slow-growing species able to tolerate shade and escape seedling pathogens. We discuss these results in the context of seed dispersal as a means of escaping from seedling pathogens.

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Augspurger, C.K., Kelly, C.K. Pathogen mortality of tropical tree seedlings: experimental studies of the effects of dispersal distance, seedling density, and light conditions. Oecologia 61, 211–217 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00396763

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