Interspecific associations in seed arrival and seedling recruitment in a Neotropical forest

Contagious seed dispersal refers to the tendency for some sites to receive many dispersed seeds while other sites receive few dispersed seeds. Contagious dispersal can lead to interspecific associations in seed arrival, and this in turn might lead to interspecific associations in seedling recruitment. We evaluate the extent of spatially contagious seed arrival, the frequency of positive interspecific associations in seed arrival, and their consequences for seedling recruitment at the community level in a tropical moist forest. We quantified seed arrival to 200 passive seed traps for 28 yr of weekly censuses and seedling recruitment to 600 1‐m2 quadrats for 21 yr of annual censuses on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. We assessed whether spatially contagious seed dispersal was more important among zoochorous species than among anemochorous species, increased in importance with similarity in fruiting times, and led to interspecific associations in seed arrival and seedling recruitment. We controlled adult seed source associations statistically to evaluate predicted relationships. We found that spatially contagious seed arrival was widespread among zoochorous species, but also occurred among anemochorous species when the strong, consistent trade winds were present. Significant interspecific associations in seed arrival were more likely for pairs of species with zoochorous seeds and similar fruiting times and persisted through seedling recruitment. Thus, interspecifically contagious seed dispersal affects local species composition and alters the mixture of interspecific interactions through the seed, germination, and early seedling stages in this forest. Future investigations should consider the implications of interspecific association at the regeneration stages documented here for later life stages and species coexistence.

S. Joseph Wright, Osvaldo Calderón, Andrés Hernandéz, Matteo Detto, & Patrick A. Jansen