Interspecific variation in primary seed dispersal in a tropical forest


*Correspondence author. E-mail:


  • 1We investigated the relationships of seed size, dispersal mode and other species characteristics to interspecific variation in mean primary seed dispersal distances, mean annual seed production per unit basal area, and clumping of seed deposition among 41 tropical tree species on Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
  • 2A hierarchical Bayesian model incorporating interannual variation in seed production was used to estimate seed dispersal, seed production, and clumping of seed rain for each species from 19 years of data for 188 seed traps on a 50-ha plot in which all adult trees were censused every 5 years.
  • 3Seed dispersal was modelled as a two-dimensional Student's T distribution with the degrees of freedom parameter fixed at 3, interannual variation in seed production per basal area was modelled as a lognormal, and the clumping of seed rain around its expected value was modelled as a negative binomial distribution.
  • 4There was wide variation in seed dispersal distances among species sharing the same mode of seed dispersal. Seed dispersal mode did not explain significant variation in seed dispersal distances, but did explain significant variation in clumping: animal-dispersed species showed higher clumping of seed deposition.
  • 5Among nine wind-dispersed species, the combination of diaspore terminal velocity, tree height and wind speed in the season of peak dispersal explained 40% of variation in dispersal distances. Among 31 animal-dispersed species, 20% of interspecific variation in dispersal distances was explained by seed mass (a negative effect) and tree height (a positive effect).
  • 6Among all species, seed mass, tree height and dispersal syndrome explained 28% of the variation in mean dispersal distance and seed mass alone explained 45% of the variation in estimated seed production per basal area.
  • 7Synthesis. There is wide variation in patterns of primary seed rain among tropical tree species. Substantial proportions of interspecific variation in seed production, seed dispersal distances, and clumping of seed deposition are explained by relatively easily measured plant traits, especially dispersal mode, seed mass, and tree height. This provides hope for trait-based generalization and modelling of seed dispersal in tropical forests.