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Keywords:

  • ant–plant mutualisms;
  • elaiosome-bearing seeds;
  • hellebore;
  • myrmecochory;
  • path analysis;
  • seed dispersal determinants;
  • seed dispersal macroecology;
  • structural equation models

Summary

  • 1
    This paper draws together geographical variation and various correlates of individual seed dispersal success to evaluate spatial variation in major determinants of seed removal rates of the myrmecochore Helleborus foetidus, whose ant assemblages and diaspores vary geographically.
  • 2
    We censused seed removal by ants directly from individual plants in 12 populations and four regions across the Iberian Peninsula, and measured the elaiosomed seed, plant fecundity, and the biotic and abiotic environment in the close vicinity of each plant. The relative effect of these three groups of variables on seed removal was then modelled at each region using structural equation models and path analyses.
  • 3
    We found a pervasive effect of the close surroundings of each plant on dispersal. We also found a geographically variable influence of diaspore traits on dispersal. Such variable influence of the diaspore was closely related to the compositional and functional variation in ant guilds.
  • 4
    Synthesis: The appearance of an effect of diaspore and plant traits on dispersal depended on the surroundings of the plant, the identity of the ant visitors and ant abundance. This dependence itself might lead to different directions of selection among populations, a conclusion that has not emerged from seed offerings to ants, which is the usual protocol in myrmecochory research.