Seed and microsite limitations of recruitment and the impacts of post-dispersal seed predation at the within population level

Calviño-Cancela, M., 2007. Seed and microsite limitations of recruitment and the impacts of post-dispersal seed predation at the within population level. Plant Ecology, 192(1), pp.35-44.

Seed predation may cause important seed losses in plant populations, but its impact on the dynamics of populations will depend on the degree of seed or microsite limitations for recruitment. Seed losses will only affect recruitment if it is seed limited. The nature of recruitment limitation (seeds or microsites) is usually ascribed to whole plant populations but it may vary within populations among microhabitats and habitats. Thus, the potential impact of seed predation will also vary within the population, being highest where recruitment is seed limited. The impact to the whole population will depend on the spatial concordance between the intensity of seed predation and that of seed limitation. Recruitment limitations (with seed addition experiments), seed predation (with seed removal experiments), and the dynamics of seed availability in the soil (with soil samples taken both after seed dispersal and before the following dispersal event) of the shrub Corema album (Empetraceae) were investigated in dunes in NW Spain, at microhabitats ‘open ground’, ‘underneath C. album’, and ‘underneath C. album’ at two habitats, sparse and dense scrub. The nature of recruitment limitation (seeds vs. microsites) varied within the population. It was seed limited in the microhabitat ‘open ground’ and microsite limited under shrub cover. The spatial patterns of seedling recruitment were unrelated to seed availability but strongly affected by germination requirements. The spatial discordance between seed availability and recruitment implies a crucial constraint for processes affecting seed availability (seed predation but also e.g., dispersal) to impact recruitment. They will not affect its spatial pattern but only its quantity as long as they act in those sites selected by seeds to germinate. Seed predation was highest underneath mother plants and lowest in open ground. Thus, its potential impact is low, as it is centred where recruitment is not seed limited. This study shows that the analysis of seed predation in relation to recruitment limitations at smaller spatial scales within the population provides more insight to understand its impact.