Papers in the Biological Sciences




Date of this Version



Ecology (April 2021) Article e03362 + Supplementary material.

doi: 10.1002/ECY.3362

The article is also available at:

Supplementary material is available appended to the article and at:

Code (Huanca Nuñez 2021) is available on Zenodo:


Copyright 2021, Ecological Society of America. Used by permission.



Tropical forest regeneration after abandonment of former agricultural land depends critically on the input of tree seeds, yet seed dispersal is increasingly disrupted in contemporary human-modified landscapes. Here, we introduce the concept of seed rain–successional feedbacks as a deterministic process in which seed rain is shaped by successional dynamics internal to a forest site and that acts to reinforce priority effects. We used a combination of time series and chronosequence approaches to investigate how the quantity and taxonomic and functional composition of seed rain change during succession and to evaluate the strength of seed rain–successional feedbacks, relative to other deterministic and stochastic mechanisms, in secondary wet forests of Costa Rica. We found that both successional niches and seed rain–successional feedbacks shaped successional trajectories in the seed rain. Determinism due to successional niche assembly was supported by the increasing convergence of community structure to that of a mature forest, in terms of both functional and taxonomic composition. With successional age, the proportions of large-seeded, shade-tolerant species in the seed rain increased, whereas the proportion of animal-dispersed species did not change significantly. Seed rain–successional feedbacks increased in strength with successional age, as the proportion of immigrant seeds (species not locally represented in the site) decreased with successional age, and the composition of the seed rain became more similar to that of the adult trees at the forest site. The deterministic assembly generated by seed rain–successional feedback likely contributed to the increasing divergence of secondary forest sites from each other during succession. To the extent that human modification of tropical forest landscapes reduces connectivity via factors such as forest cover loss, our results suggest that seed rain–successional feedbacks are likely to increasingly shape regeneration trajectories in and amplify floristic heterogeneity among tropical secondary forests.