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Universidade da Madeira (2014)

Spatio-temporal variation in seed production in three Euphorbia species and the role of animals on seed fate

Boieiro, Mário Rui Canelas

Titre : Spatio-temporal variation in seed production in three Euphorbia species and the role of animals on seed fate

Auteur : Boieiro, Mário Rui Canelas

Université de soutenance : Universidade da Madeira

Grade : Doutoramento em Ciências Biológicas 2014

Résumé
Comparative studies on the reproductive biology of co-occurring related plant species have provided valuable information for the interpretation of ecological and evolutionary phenomena, with direct application in conservation management of plant populations. The aims of this thesis were to identify the causes of pre-dispersal reproductive losses in three Euphorbia species (the Mediterranean E. characias and the narrow endemics E. pedroi and E. welwitschii) and evaluate the variation of their effects in time, space and between individuals and species. Furthermore, we intended to study elaiosomes’ fatty acid profiles for the three Euphorbia and assess the role played by the elaiosome in ant attraction. Finally, we aimed to identify the major seed dispersal agents for each Euphorbia species in each site and study differences in short term seed fate due to differences in ant behaviour. The results indicated that intact seed production differed significantly between the three Euphorbia, mostly due to differences in cyathia production. Losses to pre-dispersal seed predators were proportionately larger for the endemic species which also suffered higher losses resulting in flower, fruit (in E. welwitschii) and seed abortion (in E. pedroi). The elaiosomes of E. pedroi are poor in fatty acids and for this reason seeds of this species were removed in lower proportion by mutualistic dispersers than those of their congeners, being more prone to seed predation. Two larger ant species – Aphaenogaster senilis and Formica subrufa – were responsible for a larger percentage of removals with seeds being transported at larger distances and being discarded in the vicinity of their nests following elaiosome removal. Our results highlight the role of insect-plant interactions as major determinants of seed survival for the three study plants and call for the need to include more information on insect-plant interactions in plant conservation programmes.

Mots clés  : Insect-plant interactions Myrmecochory Insect seed predation Elaiosomes Euphorbia Ciências Biológicas

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