Implications of Seed Dispersal for Conservation

Seed dispersal is universally considered important for biodiversity conservation. The structure of the landscape has strong effects on the distances traveled by seeds, regardless of whether they are dispersed by abiotic factors (wind) or by animals. Therefore, any type of disturbance, such as habitat fragmentation or habitat modification by an invasive plant species for instance, is likely to change the patterns of seed movement, the

Figure 6 Daphne rodriguezii is a fleshy-fruited shrub endemic to the Balearic Islands that is in regression in those populations where the only disperser of the plant, the endemic lizard Podarcis lilfordi, has become extinct. Photos by Javier Rodriguez-Perez.

patterns of seed recruitment, as well as the genetic structure of the plant populations. For wind-dispersed species, it is known that seeds travel much further distances in open landscapes than in dense forest, due to differences in the shape of the wind profile. On the other hand, plants depending on animals for seed movement are susceptible to dispersal failure when their seed vectors become rare or extinct. Disruption of the seed dispersal mutualism can have serious consequences for the maintenance of the plant populations. An increasing number of studies are showing how the populations of seed dispersers are being decimated, both in the tropics and in the temperate zones, and how this translates into a lower dispersal success of the plants depending upon them (Figure 6). In tropical areas in particular, the widespread decimation of dispersers by overhunting and habitat loss are expected to have devastating long-term consequences for the maintenance of tree species diversity. An excessive LDD of elements alien to ecosystems also represents a threat to biodiversity, especially if it goes along an insufficient dispersal of native species.

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