Host compatibility interacts with seed dispersal to determine small-scale distribution of a mistletoe in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China

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Abstract

Aims

Mistletoe infection between intra- and interspecific hosts can be restricted by seed dispersal, host–mistletoe compatibility and other factors, yet few studies have linked seed dispersal and seedling establishment together for understanding mistletoe plant distribution and demography together in different anthropogenic disturbance forest types at a local scale. The objectives of this study were to examine how three factors—seed disperser behavior, post-dispersal host compatibility and canopy cover—affect the spatial distribution of a generalist mistletoe Dendrophthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae) in plantation and rainforest within Xishuangbanna, Southwest China.

Methods

We observed mistletoe D. pentandra infection patterns at the scale of individual trees and sixteen 400-m2 forest plots in adjacent plantation and rainforest within Xishuangbanna. To elucidate what determines infection patterns at different scales and in different forest types, we observed the behavior of major avian seed dispersers and carried out a seed inoculation experiment to examine how post-dispersal compatibility and light incidence affect the infection of different hosts.

Important Findings

Dendrophthoe pentandra displayed an aggregated distribution and infected 10 species in our study site, with a significantly higher infection prevalence and intensity in the plantation than in the tropical forest. Different seed dispersers provided contrasting initial mistletoe templates: the specialist frugivore Dicaeum concolor (plain flowerpecker) preferred to fly between mistletoes in infected trees in the plantation and likely intensified existing infections. In contrast, the dietary generalist Pycnonotus jocosus (red-whiskered bulbul) was more likely to visit uninfected trees, thereby establishing new infections. Thus, seed dispersal appears to be an important determinant of the mistletoes distribution, with deposition patterns providing an initial distribution template and determining small-scale patterns. However, post-dispersal and abiotic factors revealed that different host compatibilities and levels of light incidence in different habitats affected the survival of D. pentandra seedlings. Hence, our findings suggest that seed dispersal interacts with host compatibility and canopy cover to determine establishment success, survival and the observed distribution patterns.

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