Seed rain dynamics following disturbance exclusion in a secondary tropical dry forest in Morelos, Mexico
In most of the legally protected areas in Mexico local inhabitants use natural resources, such as fire wood or cattle grazing. These frequent but low-intensity disturbances have consequences at various levels of the tropical ecosystems and strongly impact forest structure and its regeneration capacity. Despite their importance, the effects of these perturbations in many aspects of tropical forest ecology and in the forest’s capacity to recover after disturbance exclusion remain poorly understood. Understanding the impact of these processes on tropical forests is necessary for rehabilitating these forests and enhancing their productivity. In this study, we evaluate the impact of twelve years of exclusion (E) of cattle grazing and fire wood extraction in the composition and dynamics of seed rain, and compare this assessment to a similar analysis in an area where these perturbations continued (without exclusion, WE). We found a strong seasonality in seed rain (96% of seeds fell in the dry season) in both areas. There were no significant differences between E and WE sites in relation to overall seed density, species richness and diversity. However, the distribution along the year of seed species density was significantly different among the E and WE sites. The Jaccard’s similarity index between E and WE sites was relatively low (0.57). Barochory was the most common dispersal mode observed among the 23 species in terms of seed species density (48%), followed by anemochory (39%) and zoochory (13%). In relation to seed density, anemochory was the most frequent dispersal mode (88%). Most species in the zone were categorized as small seeds (92%), and there were no significant differences in the distribution of seed size between E and WE. The spatial pattern of dispersal of the four species with the highest relative importance value index, in both areas, was aggregated. Twelve years of disturbance exclusion were not enough to fully restore the seed rain of the area; some differences were already perceptible after this lapse. On the other hand, zoochorous species were almost absent from both sites. The re-introduction of climax and animal-dispersed species may be, in addition to perturbation exclusion, a viable strategy to accelerate ecological restoration in this area.
Keywords: archeological zone of xochicalco, temporal seed dynamics, spatial seed distribution, dispersal syndrome, ecological restoration