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Abiotic and vertebrate seed dispersal in the Brazilian Atlantic forest: Implications for forest regeneration

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  • Agricultural Science


This study documents the proportion of woody plant species having different modes of seed dispersal, and classes of seed and fruit size at 16 Atlantic montane forest plots of southeastern Brazil (23-24°S). These plots represent six chronosequences (from 5 year-old to old-growth forest) of forest regeneration following small-scale shifting agriculture. Our results indicate that there is a gradual but predictable increase in the number of woody plant species relying on vertebrate-mediated seed dispersal in increasingly older plots. Moreover, the percentage of plant species bearing small seeds and fruits ( < 0.6 cm in length) was more than halved from earlier to older forest plots, while the percentage of plant species producing middle-sized seeds and fruits at least doubled. Plant species belonging to the Melastomataceae, Myrsinaceae, Rubiaceae and Flacourtiaceae comprised a large proportion of the small-seeded and fruit species (33-53%), and largely occurred in early successional forest plots (5-30 years old). In contrast, species belonging to the Myrtaceae and Lauraceae represented most of the species (51-72%) bearing medium-sized seeds and fruits (0.6-1.5 cm in length), and occurred primarily in the old-growth forests. Shifts in the relative importance of dispersal strategies during the regeneration process of Atlantic montane forest, as well as in diaspore size appear to be related to the balance between early successional and shade-tolerant species associated with particular life forms and plant families. Finally, we discuss the relationships between the species richness of Myrtaceae and Lauraceae trees, seed dispersal by medium to large vertebrates, and possible regeneration scenarios for the Atlantic forest.

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