The relationship between seed size and abundance in plant communities: Model predictions and observed patterns

Michelle R. Leishman*, Brad R. Murray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Recent studies have suggested that seed size and plant abundance in communities are associated. However, inconsistent patterns have emerged from these studies, with varying mechanisms proposed to explain emergent relationships. We employ a theoretical framework, based on key theory lineages of vegetation dynamics and species coexistence, to examine relationships between species abundance and seed size. From these theory lineages, we identified four models and their predictions: the Seed size/number trade-off model (SSNTM), the Succession model (SM), the Spatial competition model (SCM), and the Lottery model (LM). We then explored empirical evidence from ten diverse plant communities for seed size and abundance patterns, and related these patterns to model predictions. The SSNTM predicts a negative correlation between seed size and abundance. The SM predicts either a negative, positive or no correlation dependent on time since disturbance, while the SCM and LM make no predictions for a relationship between seed size and abundance. We found no evidence for consistent relationships between seed size and abundance across the ten communities. There were no consistent differences in seed size and abundance relationships between communities dominated by annuals compared to perennials. In three of the ten communities a significant positive seed size and abundance correlation emerged, which falsified the SSNTM as an important determinant of abundance structure in these communities. For sites in coastal woodland, the relationships between seed size and abundance were consistent with the predictions of the SM (although generally not significant), with fire being the disturbance. We suggest that the significant positive seed size and abundance correlations found may be driven by the association between large seeds and large growth forms, as large growth forms tend to be dominant. It seems likely that patterns of seed size and abundance in communities are determined by a complex interaction between environmental factors and correlations of plant attributes that determine a species' strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalOikos
Volume94
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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