Seed dispersal spectra: a comparison of temperate plant communities

Mary F. Willson*, B. L. Rice, M. Westoby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract. We compare the dispersal spectra of diaspores from varied plant communities in Australia, New Zealand, and North America, assigning dispersal mode to each diaspore type on the basis of apparent morphological adaptations. Species with ballistic and external dispersal modes were uncommon in most communities we surveyed. Ant dispersal was also rather uncommon, except in some Australian sclerophyll vegetation types. The frequency of vertebrate dispersal ranged up to 60% of the flora, the highest frequencies occurring in New Zealand forests. Wind dispersal ranged as high as 70% of the flora, with the highest values in Alaska, but usually comprised 10–30% of the flora. Many species in most communities had diaspores with no special morphological device for dispersal. Physiognomically similar vegetation types indifferentbiogeographic regions usually had somewhat dissimilar dispersal spectra. The frequency of dispersal by vertebrates often increased and the frequency of species with no special dispersal device decreased along gradients of increasing vertical diversity of vegetation structure. Elevation and moisture gradients also exhibited shifts in dispersal spectra. Within Australia, vertebrate‐ and wind‐dispersal increased in frequency along a soil‐fertility gradient, and dispersal by ants and by no special device decreased. Habitat breadths (across plant communities) and microhabitat breadths (within communities) for species of each major dispersal type did not show consistent differences, in general. Ant‐dispersed species often had lower cover‐values than other species in several Australian vegetation types. We discuss the ecological bases of these differences in dispersal spectra in terms of the availability of dispersal agents, seed size, and other ecological constraints. Seed size is suggested to be one ecological factor that is probably of general relevance to the evolution of dispersal syndromes. 1990 IAVS ‐ the International Association of Vegetation Science

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-562
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Adhesive dispersal
  • Ant dispersal
  • Ballistic dispersal
  • Seed dispersal
  • Vertebrate dispersal
  • Wind dispersal


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