Tree size and fecundity influence ballistic seed dispersal of two dominant mast-fruiting species in a tropical rain forest

Norghauer, Julian Martin; Newbery, David McClintock (2015). Tree size and fecundity influence ballistic seed dispersal of two dominant mast-fruiting species in a tropical rain forest. Forest Ecology and Management, 338, pp. 100-113. Elsevier 10.1016/j.foreco.2014.11.005

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Seed production, seed dispersal, and seedling recruitment are integral to forest dynamics, especially in masting species. Often these are studied separately, yet scarcely ever for species with ballistic dispersal even though this mode of dispersal is common in legume trees of tropical African rain forests. Here, we studied two dominant main-canopy tree species, Microberlinia bisulcata and Tetraberlinia bifoliolata (Caesalpinioideae), in 25 ha of primary rain forest at Korup, Cameroon, during two successive masting events (2007/2010). In the vicinity of c. 100 and 130 trees of each species, 476/580 traps caught dispersed seeds and beneath their crowns c. 57,000 pod valves per species were inspected to estimate tree-level fecundity.

Seed production of trees increased non-linearly and asymptotically with increasing stem diameters. It was unequal within the two species’ populations, and differed strongly between years to foster both spatial and temporal patchiness in seed rain. The M. bisulcata trees could begin seeding at 42–44 cm diameter: at a much larger size than could T. bifoliolata (25 cm). Nevertheless, per capita life-time reproductive capacity was c. five times greater in M. bisulcata than T. bifoliolata owing to former’s larger adult stature, lower mortality rate (despite a shorter life-time) and smaller seed mass.

The two species displayed strong differences in their dispersal capabilities. Inverse modelling (IM) revealed that dispersal of M. bisulcata was best described by a lognormal kernel. Most seeds landed at 10–15 m from stems, with 1% of them going beyond 80 m (<100 m). The direct estimates of fecundity significantly improved the models fitted. The lognormal also described well the seedling recruitment distribution of this species in 121 ground plots. By contrast, the lower intensity of masting and more limited dispersal of the heavier-seeded T. bifoliolata prevented reliable IM. For this species, seed density as function of distance to traps suggested a maximum dispersal distance of 40–50 m, and a correspondingly more aggregated seedling recruitment pattern ensued than for M. bisulcata.

From this integrated field study, we conclude that the reproductive traits of M. bisulcata give it a considerable advantage over T. bifoliolata by better dispersing more seeds per capita to reach more suitable establishment sites, and combined with other key traits they explain its local dominance in the forest. Understanding the linkages between size at onset of maturity, individual fecundity, and dispersal capability can better inform the life-history strategies, and hence management, of co-occurring tree species in tropical forests.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Vegetation Ecology [discontinued]

UniBE Contributor:

Norghauer, Julian Martin and Newbery, David McClintock


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)








Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

23 Dec 2014 09:47

Last Modified:

26 Jun 2016 01:56

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Inverse modelling of dispersal, Leguminosae-Fabaceae trees, Reproductive traits and allometry, Masting phenology, Seedling recruitment, Size at maturity




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