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Keywords:

  • coexistence;
  • leaf litter;
  • nurse logs;
  • seed mass;
  • shade tolerance

Summary

  • • 
    The safe site concept could have utility in community ecology if predictive relationships between plant traits and safe site characteristics could be identified. Here we examine the proposal that the nature and relative abundance of safe sites are systematically related to seed size, in an assemblage of 17 woody species in a temperate forest.
  • • 
    We compared the degree of association of seedlings of each species with elevated microsites, and examined life-history correlates of this variation.
  • • 
    Seed size explained 45% of interspecific variation in percentage of seedlings growing on logs and other elevated substrates. Neither specific leaf area nor an index of light requirements gave significant increases in explanatory power. Phylogenetically independent contrasts gave a similar, but weaker, relationship with seed size. Most small-seeded species were overrepresented on elevated microsites, whereas two large-seeded taxa were underrepresented on these substrates. Safe sites of small-seeded species were therefore more spatially restricted than those of large-seeded taxa, as elevated surfaces occupied only 8% of the forest floor.
  • • 
    Safe site differentiation may help to explain the wide range of seed size present within many communities, as well as species coexistence in forests.