Seed dispersal enables plants to reach favorable sites for population renewal or expansion far from conspecifics. However, the ability of plants to respond to habitat heterogeneity at large spatial scale is strongly mediated by seed dispersal vectors, e.g. animals, which usually restrict seed deposition to sites with specific environmental conditions, and at short distances from source plants. This spatial constraint, together with the technical difficulties of following the movement of seeds in the wild, makes the estimation of plant response to large-scale heterogeneity a challenge. Here, we applied an isotope-based technique to track bird-mediated seed dispersal of two co-occurring tree species in eight replicated landscapes in the Cantabrian Range (N Spain): the hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and the holly Ilex aquifolium. These species bear very similar fruits, partially overlap in the timing of fruit production, and their seeds are dispersed by the same species of frugivorous birds. Thus we expected that landscape structure, as represented by the amount of forest cover in the landscape, would affect the large-scale seed dispersal of neighboring individuals of C. monogyna and I. aquifolium in a similar fashion. Contrary to our expectation though, the effects of forest cover on the dispersal patterns of co-occurring hawthorn and holly were opposite: high forest cover in the landscape decreased large-scale dispersal for hawthorn, but enhanced it for holly. Our results suggest that small differences in the traits of plant and frugivore species, such as phenology patterns, can interact with the distribution of adult plants to generate strong differences in the response to landscape structure through seed dispersal, even for neighboring trees belonging to different species.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics