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We identified the principal factors causing losses in reproductive potential (i.e. quantity of potentially dispersable seeds) over the predispersal period of the reproductive cycle of Sorbus aucuparia L. (Rosaceae) in various populations in the NW Iberian Peninsula. Over the period 1999–2002 we examined the magnitude and variability of losses observed in each stage from bud production to seed production (i.e. bud to flower, flower to initiated fruit, initiated to full-size fruit, and full-size to mature fruit). We also investigated spatial and temporal variation in these losses. Reproductive potential showed very significant losses over the predispersal period in all 4 years: in no case did the number of mature fruits available for dispersal exceed 20% of the initial number of flower buds. In all 4 years of study, we detected statistically significant variation among populations in total losses. The principal cause of loss of reproductive potential over the predispersal period in our Sorbus aucuparia populations was non-initiation of fruit. The plant's interactions with predispersal predators of buds and seeds show high spatial and temporal variability. Also, the proportions of loss due to the different components did not show within-individual consistency over time. It thus seems unlikely that the different factors contributing to predispersal losses in rowan are currently generating significant selective pressures in our study populations.