Modelling long-distance seed dispersal in heterogeneous landscapes


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  • 1Long-distance seed dispersal is difficult to measure, yet key to understanding plant population dynamics and community composition.
  • 2We used a spatially explicit model to predict the distribution of seeds dispersed long distances by birds into habitat patches of different shapes. All patches were the same type of habitat and size, but varied in shape. They occurred in eight experimental landscapes, each with five patches of four different shapes, 150 m apart in a matrix of mature forest. The model was parameterized with small-scale movement data collected from field observations of birds. In a previous study we validated the model by testing its predictions against observed patterns of seed dispersal in real landscapes with the same types and spatial configuration of patches as in the model.
  • 3Here we apply the model more broadly, examining how patch shape influences the probability of seed deposition by birds into patches, how dispersal kernels (distributions of dispersal distances) vary with patch shape and starting location, and how movement of seeds between patches is affected by patch shape.
  • 4The model predicts that patches with corridors or other narrow extensions receive higher numbers of seeds than patches without corridors or extensions. This pattern is explained by edge-following behaviour of birds. Dispersal distances are generally shorter in heterogeneous landscapes (containing patchy habitat) than in homogeneous landscapes, suggesting that patches divert the movement of seed dispersers, ‘holding’ them long enough to increase the probability of seed defecation in the patches. Dispersal kernels for seeds in homogeneous landscapes were smooth, whereas those in heterogenous landscapes were irregular. In both cases, long-distance (> 150 m) dispersal was surprisingly common, usually comprising approximately 50% of all dispersal events.
  • 5Synthesis. Landscape heterogeneity has a large influence on patterns of long-distance seed dispersal. Our results suggest that long-distance dispersal events can be predicted using spatially explicit modelling to scale-up local movements, placing them in a landscape context. Similar techniques are commonly used by landscape ecologists to model other types of movement; they offer much promise to the study of seed dispersal.