Seed predators limit plant recruitment in Neotropical savannas


Despite the well-documented impacts of consumers on seed abundance the link between seed predation and plant population dynamics remains poorly understood because experimental studies linking patterns of predation with seedling establishment are rare. We used experimental manipulations with six woody plant species to elucidate the effects of seed predator type, habitat, and plant species identity on rates of seed predation and seedling recruitment in the Neotropical savannas known as the Cerrado. We found that seed predation rates are consistently high across a diversity of local habitat types, with important inter-habitat variation in seed predation for three of the six species used in our experiments. We also found that seed predation has a clear demographic signal - experimentally excluding predators resulted in higher rates of seedling establishment over the course of two seasons. Because the intensity of seed predation varied between species and habitats, it may play a role in structuring local patterns of plant abundance and community composition. Finally, our results lend support to the recent hypothesis that herbivores have major and underappreciated impacts in Neotropical savannas, and that top-down factors can influence the demography of plants in this extensive and biodiversity-rich biome in previously unexplored ways.

Oikos, (120), 7, pp. 1013–1022