Pollen and seed dispersal of Brazil nut trees in the southwestern Brazilian Amazon

ABSTRACT Pollen and seed dispersal patterns greatly influence the spatial distribution of plant genetic diversity. Microsatellite-based parentage analysis provides accurate estimates of contemporary gene dispersal. Although most tropical trees have been shown to exhibit widespread pollen dispersal, few studies have estimated contemporary gene dispersal after seedling establishment. Bertholletia excelsa (Lecythidaceae) is pollinated by large-bodied bees, while previous seed-tracking experiments suggest their seeds are mainly dispersed across very short distances by scatter-hoarding rodents, who primarily act as seed predators. Here we used parentage analysis to provide contemporary estimates of pollen and seed dispersal in B. excelsa recruits. We examined six 25-ha plots located in two natural stands in the Acre River valley, in the southwestern Brazilian Amazon. We used 11 microsatellite markers to estimate genetic diversity and fixation index parameters in adults, seedlings and saplings. Genetic diversity was moderate and did not differ across size classes or sampling locations. We assigned pollen and seed parents for < 20% of the recruits, indicating that most events of realized gene flow occurred beyond our 25-ha plots. Only 10 parentage assignments were confirmed with 80% confidence. Pollen distance ranged from 33 to 372 m and seed dispersal from 58 to 655 m. Actual seed-dispersal distances were far greater than the estimates obtained in previous seed-tracking experiments. Thus, studies encompassing larger sampling areas are necessary to determine a more representative spatial scale of B. excelsa’s pollen and seed dispersal capacity in natural stands.