Role of dispersal in the recruitment limitation of neotropical pioneer species

J. W. Dalling, H. C. Muller-Landau, S. J. Wright, S. P. Hubbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. We examined the importance of seed dispersal in predicting the pioneer seedling composition in recent gaps in a forest plot on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. We characterize seed dispersal for 13 taxa from seed rain data collected over 13 years in 200 mesh traps, and for an additional species from germination from soil samples collected in one year. We describe seedling distribution patterns from a complete census of all seedlings of these 14 taxa present in 36 treefall gaps. 2. A maximum likelihood model, incorporating both distance to adult trees and tree size, fitted observed seed rain to traps quite well for all taxa. 3. The ability to predict seedling recruit number per gap varied greatly among taxa. For 8 of 14 taxa, regression models incorporating predicted seed rain were significantly better predictors of seedling recruitment than models in which recruitment probability was assumed constant in all sites. 4. To see if variation in local dispersal patterns determined the community composition of gaps, we examined the relative abundances of these 14 pioneer taxa in the 36 gaps. We found that taxon abundances were significantly positively correlated with abundances predicted from seed dispersal models and seed-seedling regressions for 27 out of 36 gaps. 5. Overall, we find evidence that limited seed dispersal is an important factor contributing, together with factors affecting post-dispersal recruitment success, to seedling distribution patterns in gaps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)714-727
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Dispersal limitation
  • Gap
  • Seed limitation
  • Seedling distribution pattern
  • Seedling establishment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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