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Keywords:

  • Atlantic rain forest;
  • phenology;
  • regeneration;
  • Restinga;
  • seed dispersal;
  • seed dormancy;
  • seed germination

Abstract

Seasonal tropical forests show rhythms in reproductive activities due to water stress during dry seasons. If both seed dispersal and seed germination occur in the best environmental conditions, mortality will be minimised and forest regeneration will occur. To evaluate whether non-seasonal forests also show rhythms, for 2 years we studied the seed rain and seedling emergence in two sandy coastal forests (flooded and unflooded) in southern Brazil. In each forest, one 100 × 30-m grid was marked and inside it 30 stations comprising two seed traps (0.5 × 0.5 m each) and one plot (2 × 2 m) were established for monthly monitoring of seed rain and a seedling emergence study, respectively. Despite differences in soil moisture and incident light on the understorey, flooded and unflooded forests had similar dispersal and germination patterns. Seed rain was seasonal and bimodal (peaks at the end of the wetter season and in the less wet season) and seedling emergence was seasonal and unimodal (peaking in the wetter season). Approximately 57% of the total species number had seedling emergence 4 or more months after dispersal. Therefore, both seed dormancy and the timing of seed dispersal drive the rhythm of seedling emergence in these forests. The peak in germination occurs in the wetter season, when soil fertility is higher and other phenological events also occur. The strong seasonality in these plant communities, even in this weakly seasonal climate, suggests that factors such as daylength, plant sensitivity to small changes in the environment (e.g. water and nutrient availability) or phylogenetic constraints cause seasonal rhythms in the plants.