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Research Abstracts Online
January 2008 - March 2009

University of Minnesota Twin Cities
College of Biological Sciences
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior

PI: Helene Muller-Landau

Seed Dispersal in Tropical Forests: Estimating Patterns and Their Consequences for Forest Dynamics

Understanding seed dispersal is critical to understanding plant population and community dynamics, especially in tropical forests where seed limitation is pervasive. In most tropical tree species, seed arrival is sparse and patchy, and thus knowledge of where seeds arrive is a prerequisite for understanding the influences of post-dispersal processes such as seed predation, microhabitat requirements for establishment, and density-dependent survival. Despite its importance, we know very little about seed dispersal of tropical trees, because it has been studied in only a tiny proportion of the many tropical tree species and because general relationships that might allow dispersal patterns to be predicted from more easily measured species characteristics have yet to emerge. 

These researchers use intensive quantitative analyses and simulations to estimate patterns and assess consequences of seed dispersal in tropical tree species. They are analyzing 21 years of seed trap and tree census data for Barro Colorado Island, Panama, as well as performing genetic data matching of a subset of seeds to specific parent trees. They use inverse modeling methods to estimate seed dispersal kernels from these datasets, and quantify the error and bias in their methods by doing the same with simulated datasets. They also simulate different patterns of seed rain and natural enemy dispersal to investigate how dispersal patterns affect interactions with specialized natural enemies (insects, pathogens) and their contribution to diversity maintenance. 

Group Members

Gil Bohrer, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Andy Jones, Naos Islands Laboratories, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama
Marco Visser, Naos Islands Laboratories, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama