When sex is not enough: Ecological correlates of resprouting capacity in congeneric tropical forest shrubs

Eloisa Lasso, Bettina M.J. Engelbrecht, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In moist tropical forests resprouting may be an important component of life history, contributing to asexual reproduction through the clonal spread of individuals derived from shoot fragments. However, in contrast to other ecosystems where resprouting is common, the ecological correlates of resprouting capacity in tropical forests remain largely unexplored. In this study we characterized shade tolerance, resprouting capacity and sexual reproductive success of eight co-occurring Piper species from lowland forests of Panama. In field experiments we found that shade-tolerant Piper species had a higher capacity to regenerate from excised or pinned stem fragments than light-demanding species in both gap and understory light conditions. In contrast, shade-tolerant species had lower recruitment probabilities from seeds, as a consequence of lower initial seed viability, and lower seedling emergence rates. All Piper species needed gap conditions for successful seedling establishment. Of 8,000 seeds sown in the understory only 0.2% emerged. In gaps, seed germination of light-demanding species was between 10 and 50%, whereas for shade-tolerant species it was 0.5-9.8%. We propose that the capacity to reproduce asexually from resprouts could be adaptive for shade-tolerant species that are constantly exposed to damage from falling litter in the understory. Resprouting may allow Piper populations to persist and spread despite the high rate of pre-dispersal seed predation and low seed emergence rates. Across Piper species, we detected a trade-off between resprouting capacity and the annual viable seed production per plant but not with annual seed mass produced per plant. This suggests that species differences in sexual reproductive success may not necessarily result from differential resource allocation. Instead we suggest that low sexual reproductive success in the understory may in part reflect reduced genetic diversity in populations undergoing clonal growth, resulting in self-fertilization and in-breeding depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-56
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Asexual reproduction
  • Life history
  • Piper
  • Seed germination
  • Shade tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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