Propagule morphology and river characteristics shape secondary water dispersal in tree species

Abstract

Plant migration is a multi-stage process often driven by multiple dispersal vector systems. Water-mediated dispersal (hydrochory) is known to move propagules of nonaquatic species over long distances, but whether propagule morphology affects floating processes is an open question. We used a multi-species approach to assess the role of propagule morphology in the dispersal of primarily wind-dispersed tree species in different urban rivers; the impact of hydraulic structures (locks, spillways) on floating was also considered. We released tagged propagules of eight tree species (Acer platanoides, Acer negundo, Acer saccharinum, Ailanthus altissima, Fraxinus excelsior, Robinia pseudoacacia, Tilia platyphyllos, Ulmus glabra) in the main lowland Spree River and in the small tributary Panke River (Berlin, Germany) and directly observed the fate of the floating propagules over river sections of 1,200 m. Our results demonstrate the following: (1) Water is an effective dispersal agent for wind-dispersed tree species, extending typical wind-related transport distances by several times. (2) Interspecific differences in transport distances reflect propagule characteristics (dry weight, maximum wing width) and river system. (3) Propagule morphology also affects deposition patterns as it was generally the large propagules that were trapped along semi-natural embankments in slow flow areas. (4) Hydraulic structures hampered but did not entirely stop water-mediated dispersal and diminished the effects of propagule morphology on floating processes. These results provide novel insights into the functioning of hydrochory as an important dispersal vector of tree species in river systems and as a driver of plant invasions.

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Acknowledgments

This research has been supported by the Technische Universität Berlin (Projekt Spreeathen 2008/09). We thank Daria Andreeva, Tom Bewernick, Silvia Groeger, Robin Grunzke, Janosch Marder, Linda Mai, Annette Müller, Christoph Schikora, Sarah Schöner, Luisa Späth, Charles Strohmeyer, Sebastian Ossenkop, Salka Waterloo, Frauke Weber, Victoria Wölk and Sandra Woicke for supporting field work, the Wasser- and Schifffahrtsamt in Berlin for providing access to hydraulic structures, Willy Rohloff, Yoganathan Gopalasamy and Gabi Hinz for technical assistance, two anonymous reviewer for helpful comments and Kelaine Ravdin for improving our English.

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Correspondence to Ina Säumel.

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Säumel, I., Kowarik, I. Propagule morphology and river characteristics shape secondary water dispersal in tree species. Plant Ecol 214, 1257–1272 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-013-0249-z

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Keywords

  • Buoyancy
  • Hydrochory
  • Long-distance dispersal
  • Plant invasion
  • Secondary dispersal