What is it that determines if a bird should deposit a seed from a fruit in a specific place or not? I the Early View paper “Seed dispersal in heterogeneous landscapes: linking field observations with spatially explicit models”, Jessica E Lavabre ad colleagues combines modelling with empirical studies to find out! Below is the author’s summary of the study.
Frugivorous birds play a critical role in the population dynamics of many fleshy-fruited plants by defining the template for the establishment of new individuals. Because successful germination and subsequent seedling survival is highly dependent upon the micro-habitat where a seed arrives, it is crucial to understand which factors drive seed deposition. In our study, we aimed to take an important step forward in understanding the complex mechanisms that generate the spatial patterns of seed dispersal. Few studies have previously modelled seed dispersal in a real landscape, mostly because real vegetation structure is often highly heterogeneous. Here, we have taken advantage of a simple study system to parametrize mechanistic seed-dispersal models with empirical field data, and we built three models that test three seed-dispersal predictors: distance from the source tree, microhabitat type, and a combination of both distance from the source and microhabitat type.
To our greatest surprise, the third model, combining distance and microhabitat type, did not perform significantly better than the other two, simpler models. Additionally, our results suggested that what we had initially considered as one population could instead be two functionally distinct patches, with distinct seed dispersal dynamics. Altogether, these results reinforce the hypothesis that functionally distinct groups of frugivore species generate scale specific seed rain patterns.