Annual Variation in Seedfall, Post-Dispersal Predation and Recruitment of a Neotropical Tree

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Knowledge of the dynamics of seed production and seedling recruitment of individual tree species is crucial for a complete understanding of tropical forest dynamics, yet multiyear studies on the seed and young seedling stages of tropical trees are virtually nonexistent. In a 4—yr study of the understory tree Faramea occidentalis on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, I quantified natural levels of viable seedfall, seedling emergence, and seedling establishment, and experimentally estimated postdispersal seed predation. The levels of viable seedfall, seed predation, seedling emergence, early seedling survival, and seedling recruitment all differed significantly among years. The proportion of fallen seeds destroyed by predators before germination was not related to the quantity of F. occidentalis seedfall. Within a year, however, F. occidentalis seed predation appeared to be influenced by community—wide seedfall, with high predation rates during times of low seed abundance and very low predation during the late dry season peak in seedfall by the community. Most of the annual variation in recruitment can be explained by the combination of seedfall and seed predation; in 3 of the 4 yr seedling emergence could be predicted from a knowledge of viable seedfall an the probability of a seed surviving until the peak of germination. The 4th yr, however, demonstrated that environmental conditions provide a sporadic, though important, limitation to recruitment. In comparison to many tree species, early seedling survival was relatively high, as was the ratio of seedlings recruited per seed falling. The highly successful recruitment of F. occidentalis is associated with a high population density of both saplings and adults in the study area.