Is farther seed dispersal better? Spatial patterns of offspring mortality in three rainforest tree species with different dispersal abilities


  • Patrick A. Jansen,

  • Frans Bongers,

  • Peter J. Van Der Meer

P. A. Jansen (, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen Univ. and Research Centre, P.O. Box 47, NL-6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands, and Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, Univ. of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, NL-9750 AA Haren, the Netherlands. – F. Bongers and P. J. van der Meer, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen Univ. and Research Centre, P.O. Box 47, NL-6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands.


The paradigm that tropical trees with farther seed dispersal experience lower offspring mortality is currently based on within-species studies documenting higher survival of offspring located farther from conspecific adults and/or closer to light gaps. We determined whether the paradigm also holds among species by comparing spatial patterns of offspring mortality among three sympatric Neotropical rainforest tree species with the same seed dispersers but with different dispersal abilities. First, we assessed spatially non-random mortality for each species by measuring spatial shifts of the population recruitment curve (PRC) with respect to conspecific adults and light gaps across three early life stages: dispersed seeds, young seedlings and old seedlings. Then, we determined whether PRC shifts were greater for the species with short dispersal distances than for the species with greater dispersal distances. We found that the PRC shifted away from conspecific adults consistently across life stages, but we found no consistent PRC shifts towards gaps, suggesting that mortality was related more to the proximity of conspecifics than to absence of light gaps. PRC shifts away from adults were greatest in the species with the lowest dispersal ability, supporting the paradigm. Differential PRC shifts caused the spatial distribution of offspring to become almost independent with respect to adult trees and gaps in all three species, despite large differences in seed dispersal distance among these species. Our results provide direct empirical support for the paradigm that among tropical trees, species with farther seed dispersal are less impacted by spatially non-random mortality than are similar species with shorter dispersal distances. Thus, greater dispersal effectiveness merits extra investments of trees in seed dispersal ability, even at the cost of fecundity.