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Keywords:

  • Corymbia;
  • Eucalyptus;
  • long-distance dispersal;
  • resin;
  • stingless bees;
  • Trigona

ABSTRACT

Mellitochory, seed dispersal by bees, has been implicated in long-distance dispersal of the tropical rain forest tree, Corymbia torelliana (Myrtaceae). We examined natural and introduced populations of C. torelliana for 4 years to determine the species of bees that disperse seeds, and the extent and distance of seed dispersal. The mechanism of seed dispersal by bees was also investigated, including fruit traits that promote dispersal, foraging behaviour of bees at fruits, and the fate of seeds. The fruit structure of C. torelliana, with seed presented in a resin reward, is a unique trait that promotes seed dispersal by bees and often results in long-distance dispersal. We discovered that a guild of four species of stingless bees, Trigona carbonaria, T. clypearis, T. sapiens, and T. hockingsi, dispersed seeds of C. torelliana in its natural range. More than half of the nests found within 250 m of fruiting trees had evidence of seed transport. Seeds were transported minimum distances of 20–220 m by bees. Approximately 88% of seeds were dispersed by gravity but almost all fruits retained one or two seeds embedded in resin for bee dispersal. Bee foraging for resin peaked immediately after fruit opening and corresponded to a peak of seed dispersal at the hive. There were strong correlations between numbers of seeds brought in and taken out of each hive by bees (r = 0.753–0.992, P < 0.05), and germination rates were 95 ± 5%. These results showed that bee-transported seeds were effectively dispersed outside of the hive soon after release from fruits. Seed dispersal by bees is a non-standard dispersal mechanism for C. torelliana, as most seeds are dispersed by gravity before bees can enter fruits. However, many C. torelliana seeds are dispersed by bees, since seeds are retained in almost all fruits, and all of these are dispersed by bees.