Between-site differences in the scale of dispersal and gene flow in red oak.
Nut-bearing trees, including oaks (Quercus spp.), are considered to be highly dispersal limited, leading to concerns about their ability to colonize new sites or migrate in response to climate change. However, estimating seed dispersal is challenging in species that are secondarily dispersed by animals, and differences in disperser abundance or behavior could lead to large spatio-temporal variation in dispersal ability. Parentage and dispersal analyses combining genetic and ecological data provide accurate estimates of current dispersal, while spatial genetic structure (SGS) can shed light on past patterns of dispersal and establishment.
Methodology and principal findings
In this study, we estimate seed and pollen dispersal and parentage for two mixed-species red oak populations using a hierarchical bayesian approach. We compare these results to those of a genetic ML parentage model. We also test whether observed patterns of SGS in three size cohorts are consistent with known site history and current dispersal patterns. We find that, while pollen dispersal is extensive at both sites, the scale of seed dispersal differs substantially. Parentage results differ between models due to additional data included in bayesian model and differing genotyping error assumptions, but both indicate between-site dispersal differences. Patterns of SGS in large adults, small adults, and seedlings are consistent with known site history (farmed vs. selectively harvested), and with long-term differences in seed dispersal. This difference is consistent with predator/disperser satiation due to higher acorn production at the low-dispersal site. While this site-to-site variation results in substantial differences in asymptotic spread rates, dispersal for both sites is substantially lower than required to track latitudinal temperature shifts.
Animal-dispersed trees can exhibit considerable spatial variation in seed dispersal, although patterns may be surprisingly constant over time. However, even under favorable conditions, migration in heavy-seeded species is likely to lag contemporary climate change.
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