Seedling functional types in a lowland rain forest in Mexico

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American Journal of Botany


Seedling morphology of 210 species (173 trees and 37 lianas) was studied from a community perspective to identify major patterns of seedling functional types in a Mexican rain forest. Five types of seedlings were distinguished: cryptocotylar with reserve storage or absorption cotyledons (epigeal [CER] and hypogeal [CHR]), phanerocotylar epigeal, either with photosynthetic cotyledons (PEF) or with reserve storage or absorption cotyledons (PER), and phanerocotylar hypogeal with reserve cotyledons (PHR). The most common seedling type was PEF (49.5%), followed by CHR (31.4%), PER (9.5%), PHR (7.2%), and CER (2.4%). Excepting the CER type, seedling type frequencies did not differ between trees and lianas. The PEF seedlings had the lightest seeds, whereas CHR seedlings had the heaviest ones. Pioneer trees showed lighter seeds than persistent trees or lianas in species with PEF but not in species with PER. Pioneer trees (38 species) showed three seedling types and the most common was PEF (82%). Persistent trees (135 species) showed the five seedling types but PEF (43%) and CHR (37%) were the most frequent. Seedling type frequencies differed among dispersal syndrome groups. The animal dispersal syndrome was significantly more frequent in species with CHR. Our results show an evolutionary convergence of seedling types at the community level worldwide and the existence of a phylogenetic inertia in the evolution of initial seedling morphology. A comparison among eight tropical communities indicated on average that PEF is the most frequent type and CER the least common, although the relative frequency of each seedling type differs among communities, particularly between Neotropical and Paleotropical sites.