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Title: Statistical inference for seed mortality and germination with seed bank experiments
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Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
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Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Auge, Gabriela (Ed.)
    Abstract Plant-population recovery across large disturbance areas is often seed-limited. An understanding of seed dispersal patterns is fundamental for determining natural-regeneration potential. However, forecasting seed dispersal rates across heterogeneous landscapes remains a challenge. Our objectives were to determine (i) the landscape patterning of post-disturbance seed dispersal, and underlying sources of variation and the scale at which they operate, and (ii) how the natural seed dispersal patterns relate to a seed augmentation strategy. Vertical seed trapping experiments were replicated across 2 years and five burned and/or managed landscapes in sagebrush steppe. Multi-scale sampling and hierarchical Bayesian models were used to determine the scale of spatial variation in seed dispersal. We then integrated an empirical and mechanistic dispersal kernel for wind-dispersed species to project rates of seed dispersal and compared natural seed arrival to typical post-fire aerial seeding rates. Seeds were captured across the range of tested dispersal distances, up to a maximum distance of 26 m from seed-source plants, although dispersal to the furthest traps was variable. Seed dispersal was better explained by transect heterogeneity than by patch or site heterogeneity (transects were nested within patch within site). The number of seeds captured varied from a modelled mean of ~13 m−2 adjacent to patches of seed-producing plants, to nearly none at 10 m from patches, standardized over a 49-day period. Maximum seed dispersal distances on average were estimated to be 16 m according to a novel modelling approach using a ‘latent’ variable for dispersal distance based on seed trapping heights. Surprisingly, statistical representation of wind did not improve model fit and seed rain was not related to the large variation in total available seed of adjacent patches. The models predicted severe seed limitations were likely on typical burned areas, especially compared to the mean 95–250 seeds per m2 that previous literature suggested were required to generate sagebrush recovery. More broadly, our Bayesian data fusion approach could be applied to other cases that require quantitative estimates of long-distance seed dispersal across heterogeneous landscapes. 
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  2. This study investigated ant seed removal of Piper sancti-felicis, an early successional Neotropical shrub. Neotropical Piper are a classic example of bat-dispersed plants, but we suggest that ants are underappreciated dispersal agents. We identified eleven ant species from the genera Aphaenogaster, Ectatomma, Paratrechina, Pheidole, Trachymyrmex, and Wasmannia recruiting to and harvesting P. sancti-felicis seeds in forest edge and secondary forest sites at La Selva, Costa Rica. We also tested for differences in ant recruitment to five states in which ants can commonly encounter seeds: unripe fruit, ripe fruit, overripe fruit, bat feces, and cleaned seeds. Overall, ants harvested more seeds from ripe and overripe fruits than other states, but this varied among species. To better understand the mechanisms behind ant preferences for ripe/overripe fruit, we also studied how alkenylphenols, secondary metabolites found in high concentrations in P. sancti-felicis fruits, affected foraging behavior in one genus of potential ant dispersers, Ectatomma. We found no effects of alkenyl- phenols on recruitment of Ectatomma to fruits, and thus, these compounds are un- likely to explain differences in ant recruitment among fruits of different maturity. Considering that P. sancti-felicis seeds have no apparent adaptations for ant disper- sal, and few ants removed seeds that were cleaned of pulp, we hypothesize that most ants are harvesting its seeds for the nutritional rewards in the attached pulp. This study emphasizes the importance of ants as important additional dispersers of P. sancti-felicis and suggests that other non-myrmecochorous, vertebrate-dispersed plants may similarly benefit from the recruitment to fruit by ants. 
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