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Seed Dispersal -- Plant Ecology


Dispersal is one of the most important but least understood processes in plant ecology and evolutionary biology. Dispersal of seeds maintains and establishes populations, and pollen and seed dispersal are responsible for gene flow within and among populations. Traditional views of dispersal and gene flow assume models that are governed solely by geographic distance and do not account for variation in dispersal vector behavior in response to heterogenous landscapes. Landscape genetics integrates population genetics with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to evaluate the effects of landscape features on gene flow patterns (effective dispersal). Surprisingly, relatively few landscape genetic studies have been conducted on plants. Plants present advantages because their populations are stationary, allowing more reliable estimates of the effects of landscape features on effective dispersal rates. On the other hand, plant dispersal is intrinsically complex because it depends on the habitat preferences of the plant and its pollen and seed dispersal vectors. We discuss strategies to assess the separate contributions of pollen and seed movement to effective dispersal and to delineate the effects of plant habitat quality from those of landscape features that affect vector behavior. Preliminary analyses of seed dispersal for three species indicate that isolation by landscape resistance is a better predictor of the rates and patterns of dispersal than geographic distance. Rates of effective dispersal are lower in areas of high plant habitat quality, which may be due to the effects of the shape of the dispersal kernel or to movement behaviors of biotic vectors. Landscape genetic studies in plants have the potential to provide novel insights into the process of gene flow among populations and to improve our understanding of the behavior of biotic and abiotic dispersal vectors in response to heterogeneous landscapes.


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