Spanish juniper gain expansion opportunities by counting on a functionally diverse dispersal assemblage community

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Abstract

Seed dispersal is typically performed by a diverse array of species assemblages with different behavioral and morphological traits which determine dispersal quality (DQ, defined as the probability of recruitment of a dispersed seed). Fate of ecosystems to ongoing environmental changes is critically dependent on dispersal and mainly on DQ in novel scenarios. We assess here the DQ, thus the multiplicative effect of germination and survival probability to the first 3 years of life, for seeds dispersed by several bird species (Turdus spp.) and carnivores (Vulpes vulpes, Martes foina) in mature woodland remnants of Spanish juniper (Juniperus thurifera) and old fields which are being colonized by this species. Results showed that DQ was similar in mature woodlands and old fields. Germination rate for seeds dispersed by carnivores (11.5%) and thrushes (9.12%) was similar, however, interacted with microhabitat suitability. Seeds dispersed by carnivores reach the maximum germination rate on shrubs (16%), whereas seeds dispersed by thrushes did on female juniper canopies (15.5) indicating that each group of dispersers performed a directed dispersal. This directional effect was diluted when survival probability was considered: thrushes selected smaller seeds which had higher mortality in the seedling stage (70%) in relation to seedlings dispersed by carnivores (40%). Overall, thrushes resulted low-quality dispersers which provided a probability or recruitment of 2.5%, while a seed dispersed by carnivores had a probability of recruitment of 6.5%. Our findings show that generalist dispersers (i.e., carnivores) can provide a higher probability of recruitment than specialized dispersers (i.e., Turdus spp.). However, generalist species are usually opportunistic dispersers as their role as seed dispersers is dependent on the availability of trophic resources and species feeding preferences. As a result, J. thurifera dispersal community is composed by two functional groups of dispersers: specialized low-quality but trustworthy dispersers and generalist high-quality but opportunistic dispersers. The maintenance of both, generalist and specialist dispersers, in the dispersal assemblage community assures the dispersal services and increases the opportunities for regeneration and colonization of degraded areas under a land-use change scenario.

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