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Public Library of Science

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Secondary compounds in fruit mediate interactions with natural enemies and seed dispersers, influencing plant survival and species distributions. The functions of secondary metabolites in plant defenses have been well-studied in green tissues, but not in reproductive structures of plants. In this study, the distribution of toxicity within plants was quantified and its influence on seed survival was determined in Central Panama. To investigate patterns of allocation to chemical defenses and shifts in allocation with fruit development, I quantified variation in toxicity between immature and mature fruit and between the seed and pericarp for eleven species. Toxicity of seed and pericarp was compared to leaf toxicity for five species. Toxicity was measured as reduced hyphal growth of two fungal pathogens, Phoma sp. and Fusarium sp., and reduced survivorship of brine shrimp, Artemia franciscana, across a range of concentrations of crude extract. I used these measures of potential toxicity against generalist natural enemies to examine the effect of fruit toxicity on reductions of fruit development and seed survival by vertebrates, invertebrates, and pathogens measured for seven species in a natural enemy removal experiment. The seed or pericarp of all vertebrate- and wind-dispersed species reduced Artemia survivorship and hyphal growth of Fusarium during the immature and mature stages. Only mature fruit of two vertebrate-dispersed species reduced hyphal growth of Phoma. Predispersal seed survival increased with toxicity of immature fruit to Artemia during germination and decreased with toxicity to fungi during fruit development. This study suggests that fruit toxicity against generalist natural enemies may be common in Central Panama. These results support the hypothesis that secondary metabolites in fruit have adaptive value and are important in the evolution of fruit-frugivore interactions.

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