Advancing an interdisciplinary framework to study seed dispersal ecology

Although dispersal is generally viewed as a crucial determinant for the fitness of any organism, our understanding of its role in the persistence and spread of plant populations remains incomplete. Dispersal influences individual fitness, population persistence and biodiversity but it also allows populations to deal with shifts in environmental conditions. As sessile organisms, effective seed dispersal is of paramount importance to plants because it may be the sole opportunity to escape adverse environmental conditions. Yet, the complexity of seed dispersal ecology challenges our ability to generalize across different systems and predict responses of plant diversity to global change. The large number of processes and agents that constitute dispersal create a paradox: to predict the consequences of dispersal, we need to simultaneously reduce complexity to generalize across systems and embrace complexity to be able to make system-specific predictions.

Examples of the differing empirical and modelling approaches used to quantify dispersal and estimate the impacts of dispersal. Beckman et al. suggest an integrative approach using both empirical and theoretical data. Image credit: Beckman et al.

In their new viewpoint article in AoBP, Beckman et al. provide guidance on integrating empirical and theoretical approaches that account for the context-dependency of seed dispersal. This approach will help to improve our ability to generalize and predict the consequences of seed dispersal, and its anthropogenic alteration, across systems. They highlight that with an interdisciplinary perspective, we will be able to better understand how global change will impact seed dispersal processes, and potential cascading effects on plant population persistence, spread, and biodiversity.

This article is part of the AoBP Special Issue entitled The Role of Seed Dispersal in Plant Populations: Perspectives and Advances in a Changing World.