• dispersal;
  • dispersal mechanism;
  • dispersal syndrome;
  • long-distance dispersal;
  • maximum dispersal;
  • plant dispersal;
  • plant height;
  • seed mass;
  • seed size


1. It is often assumed that there is a trade-off between maternal provisioning and dispersal capacity, leading small-seeded species to disperse further than large-seeded species. However, this relationship between dispersal distance and seed mass has only been quantified for species from particular sites or with particular dispersal syndromes.

2. We provided the first large-scale, cross-species quantification of the correlations between dispersal distance and both seed mass and plant height. Seed mass was positively related to mean dispersal distance, with a 100-fold increase in seed mass being associated with a 4.5-fold increase in mean dispersal distance (R2 = 0.16; = 210 species; < 0.001). However, plant height had substantially stronger explanatory power than did seed mass, and we found a 5-fold increase in height was associated with a 4.6-fold increase in mean dispersal distance (R2 = 0.54; = 211 species; < 0.001).

3. Once plant height was accounted for, we found that small-seeded species dispersed further than did large-seeded species (R2 = 0.54; = 181 species; slope = −0.130; < 0.001); however, seed mass only added 2% to the R2 of the model. Within dispersal syndromes, tall species dispersed further than did short species, while seed mass had little influence on dispersal distance.

4.Synthesis. These findings enhance our understanding of plant life-history strategies and improve our ability to predict which species are best at colonizing new environments.