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Contagious seed dispersal beneath heterospecific fruiting trees and its consequences


  • Charles Kwit,

  • Douglas J. Levey,

  • Cathryn H. Greenberg

C. Kwit and D. J. Levey, Dept of Zoology, Box 118525, Univ. of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA. – C. H. Greenberg, USDA Forest Service, Bent Creek Experimental Forest, Asheville, NC 28806, USA. Present address for CK: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, PO Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802, USA ( ).


An hypothesized advantage of seed dispersal is avoidance of high per capita mortality (i.e. density-dependent mortality) associated with dense populations of seeds and seedlings beneath parent trees. This hypothesis, inherent in nearly all seed dispersal studies, assumes that density effects are species-specific. Yet because many tree species exhibit overlapping fruiting phenologies and share dispersers, seeds may be deposited preferentially under synchronously fruiting heterospecific trees, another location where they may be particularly vulnerable to mortality, in this case by generalist seed predators. We demonstrate that frugivores disperse higher densities of Cornusflorida seeds under fruiting (female) Ilexopaca trees than under non-fruiting (male) Ilex trees in temperate hardwood forest settings in South Carolina, USA. To determine if density of Cornus and/or Ilex seeds influences survivorship of dispersed Cornus seeds, we followed the fates of experimentally dispersed Cornus seeds in neighborhoods of differing, manipulated background densities of Cornus and Ilex seeds. We found that the probability of predation on dispersed Cornus seeds was a function of both Cornus and Ilex background seed densities. Higher densities of Ilex seeds negatively affected Cornus seed survivorship, and this was particularly evident as background densities of dispersed Cornus seeds increased. These results illustrate the importance of viewing seed dispersal and predation in a community context, as the pattern and intensity of density-dependent mortality may not be solely a function of conspecific densities.