Effects of varying forest edge permeability on seed dispersal in a neotropical montane forest

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Hard (high-contrast with pastures) and soft (low-contrast with old-fields) forest edges created by slash-and-burn agriculture have become common landscape features in regions dominated by neotropical montane forest. However, little is know about the impacts of such edge types on forest regeneration dynamics. The consequences of varying forest edge permeability for oak acorn dispersal were investigated in a forest mosaic in the Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Rates of acorn production and removal, as well as the abundance and composition of small mammal seed consumers, were monitored along these different edge types (hard vs. soft) at specific distances from forest edges into forest patches and adjacent grasslands during two consecutive years. Results show that acorn removal declined significantly only in grasslands of sites characterised by hard edges (Logistic regression, P < 0.05). Movements of metal-tagged acorns support the hypothesis that soft edges are more permeable to small mammals, with rodents moving acorns up to 15 m into grasslands of sites with soft edges. In sites with hard edges, higher rates of acorn dispersal were recorded from the forest edge towards the forest interior. Peromyscus spp. were the main acorn predators and/or dispersers of acorns present in our study sites. Rates of acorn removal during a non-masting year were greater than the subsequent mast-seeding year (85% removal within 138 days vs. 75% within 213 days), demonstrating that mast seeding may allow some seeds to escape predation. The implications of these results for oak dispersal and regeneration along edges in fragmented tropical forest landscapes are discussed.

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