Seed mass, seedling size and neotropical tree seedling establishment
- 1We examined among- and within-species effects of seed mass for seedling establishment from seed to 5 years of age in a field experiment at Paracou, French Guiana.
- 2Six seeds of each of eight species were weighed and planted into each of 120 plots (1 m2) throughout closed-canopy forest along 12 100-m transects in 1998.
- 3We described the microhabitat of each planting site using principal components derived from measurements of light availability, soil moisture, carbon and nitrogen content, and soil phosphorus availability. Although both survival and relative growth rate (RGR) increased with increasing light availability, no other microhabitat variable significantly affected seedling performance. Nor did the magnitude of microhabitat effects on survival or RGR differ among species.
- 4Larger-seeded species were more likely to survive from germination to 1 year as well as from 1 to 5 years of age. RGR for seedling height during the first year post-germination was not related to seed mass, but smaller-seeded species did grow slightly faster thereafter. Path analyses revealed that correlations between seed mass and performance were explained in part because larger seeds produced larger initial seedlings, which tended to survive better but grow more slowly.
- 5We also analysed within-species effects of seed mass for the larger-seeded Eperua grandiflora and Vouacapoua americana (both Caesalpiniaceae). Larger seeds produced larger seedlings in both species, but larger seeds survived better only for Eperua. Larger seedlings grew more slowly in both species, but did not offset the early (Eperua) and later (Vouacapoua) positive direct effects of seed mass on RGR that may represent contrasting strategies for reserve deployment.
- 6Our results demonstrate that seed size influences performance within and among species in part because of indirect effects of initial seedling size. However, we suggest that traits tightly correlated with seed mass at the species level, such as specific leaf area, leaf longevity and photosynthetic capacity, may also contribute to interspecific performance differences.