Simplifying methods to assess site suitability for plant recruitment

Calvino-Cancela, M., 2011. Simplifying methods to assess site suitability for plant recruitment. Plant Ecology, 212(8), pp.1375-1383.

Few studies link seed dispersal with its demographic consequences, or provide reliable estimates of seed dispersal effectiveness. One reason is the complexity of measuring the suitability for plant recruitment of seed arrival sites. In this study, I compare three methods that differ in the effort required to measure site suitability for seedling recruitment. All are based on the proportion of seeds that become seedlings (seedling-to-seed ratios). Method I is the most detailed and labour intensive. The fate of seeds was followed throughout the different steps of the recruitment process, from fruit removal until seedling emergence, including both seeds dispersed by different animals and undispersed seeds. Method II is based on seed addition experiments. Seeds were sowed in plots, and seedlings emerging were counted in the following two seasons. In Method III, average seed input during dispersal was measured with soil seed bank samples taken in pre- and post-dispersal periods, and seedling emergence estimated with samples of three seasons. Method II provided results similar to those of Method I, which, conversely, provides more insight in the actual processes driving recruitment. Method III, however, systematically underestimated site suitability (seedling-to-seed ratios) by about 50% as compared to the other methods in all microhabitats studied. Relative instead of absolute indices of site suitability were, however, reliable with this method. Method II and III are significantly less costly and could be good alternatives to Method I for some purposes, simplifying future studies on the demographic consequences of seed dispersal and the effectiveness of dispersers.

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