Disentangling plant establishment in sandy coastal systems: biotic and abiotic factors that determine Allagoptera arenaria (Arecaceae) germination

<div><p>ABSTRACT Germination rate and establishment success of plants in harsh environments depend on the ability of seeds to withstand unfavorable environmental conditions and avoid predators. Brazilian coastal plains, known as restinga, are subject to environmental factors that seriously limit plant establishment and survival (e.g. salinity, desiccation, oligotrophy, flooding, high temperature and radiation levels). We tested, both in field and laboratory experiments, conditions for germination and establishment of Allagoptera arenaria, a palm tree often found in restinga ecosystems of southeastern Brazil, and which have a principal role in plant community dynamics. Our results showed that the absence of mesocarp, high radiation exposure, and temperature were the main drivers of seed germination. In the field, the highest germination rate was linked to nude seeds buried in open areas. High temperatures and/or predation damaged seeds that remained on the soil surface, especially if they were close to the mother plant and alongside dung piles made by dispersers. Under controlled conditions, seeds exhibited optimum germination at 35 ºC. Therefore, the germination and establishment of A. arenaria depend as much on environmental conditions as on a network of interactions including vertebrates and invertebrates, which allow this species to colonize harsh, open areas in restinga ecosystems.</p></div>