Plants as Reef Fish: Fitting the Functional Form of Seedling Recruitment
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The life histories of many species depend first on dispersal to local sites and then on establishment. After dispersal, density-independent and density-dependent mortalities modify propagule supply, determining the number of individuals that establish. Because multiple factors influence recruitment, the dichotomy of propagule versus establishment limitation is best viewed as a continuum along which the strength of propagule or establishment limitation changes with propagule input. To evaluate the relative importance of seed and establishment limitation for plants, we (1) describe the shape of the recruitment function and (2) use limitation and elasticity analyses to quantify the sensitivity of recruitment to perturbations in seed limitation and density-independent and density-dependent mortality. Using 36 seed augmentation studies for 18 species, we tested four recruitment functions against one another. Although the linear model (accounting for seed limitation and density-independent mortality) fitted the largest number of studies, the nonlinear Beverton-Holt model (accounting for density-dependent mortality) performed better at high densities of seed augmentation. For the 18 species, seed limitation constrained population size more than other sources of limitation at ambient conditions. Seedling density reached saturation with increasing seed density in many studies, but at such high densities that seedling density was primarily limited by seed availability rather than microsite availability or density dependence.
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