Pre-dispersal predation effect on seed packaging strategies and seed viability
An increased understanding of intraspecific seed packaging (i.e. seed size/number strategy) variation across different environments may improve current knowledge of the ecological forces that drive seed evolution in plants. In particular, pre-dispersal seed predation may influence seed packaging strategies, triggering a reduction of the resources allocated to undamaged seeds within the preyed fruits. Assessing plant reactions to pre-dispersal seed predation is crucial to a better understanding of predation effects, but the response of plants to arthropod attacks remains unexplored. We have assessed the effect of cone predation on the size and viability of undamaged seeds in populations of Juniperus thurifera with contrasting seed packaging strategies, namely, North African populations with single-large-seeded cones and South European populations with multi-small-seeded cones. Our results show that the incidence of predation was lower on the single-large-seeded African cones than on the multi-small-seeded European ones. Seeds from non-preyed cones were also larger and had a higher germination success than uneaten seeds from preyed cones, but only in populations with multi-seeded cones and in cones attacked by Trisetacus sp., suggesting a differential plastic response to predation. It is possible that pre-dispersal seed predation has been a strong selective pressure in European populations with high cone predation rates, being a process which maintains multi-small-seeded cones and empty seeds as a strategy to save some seeds from predation. Conversely, pre-dispersal predation might not have a strong effect in the African populations with single-large-seeded cones characterized by seed germination and filling rates higher than those in the European populations. Our results indicate that differences in pre-dispersal seed predators and predation levels may affect both selection on and intraspecific variation in seed packaging.
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