The population-dynamic functions of seed dispersal

D. L. Venable, J. S. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


We summarize some of the population-dynamic consequences of the mosaic structure of plant populations for the evolution of seed dispersal. A fairly elaborated set of theoretical ideas exist regarding the evolution of dispersal and we have synthesized some of them in an attempt to make them more accessible to field ecologists. We consider the relationship of these general theoretical ideas to our understanding of fruit and seed dispersal. We develop three related models to describe the similarities and differences in how dispersal functions for risk reduction (bet hedging), escaping the negative consequences of crowding, and escaping high concentrations of relatives. We also briefly discuss directed dispersal as a fourth population-dynamic aspect of dispersal. Dispersal can have a risk-reducing function only when there is global (metapopulation) temporal variance in success. Dispersal to escape the negative consequences of crowding requires only spatial and local temporal environmental variation. Dispersal for escaping high concentrations of relatives requires no environmental variation, but does require genetic population structure. Directed dispersal, defined as non-random into particular patch types contingent on the expectation of local success, is always valuable when possible and represents an advantage independent the others which can occur with random dispersal. In an effort to accommodate for the differences between simple mathematical models and the behavior of complex natural fruit and seed dispersal systems we have discussed the following issues: actual patterns of patch structure and dispersal distance; the implications of plant cosexuality, perenniality, and allocation costs of dispersal structures; and the impact of the detailed nature of density dependence, breeding systems, and genetic structure. We briefly compare the population-dynamic functions of dispersal presented here with the widely cited functions of colonization, escape, and directed dispersal. Finally, we suggest how the theoretical models can be used with field data to estimate the fitness consequences of dispersal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-55
Number of pages25
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1993


  • Allocation costs
  • Bet-hedging
  • Breeding systems
  • Density dependence
  • Dispersal
  • Metapopulations
  • Patch structure
  • Sib competition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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