Studies were conducted at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica and in a greenhouse in California to determine the factors accounting for the nonrandom distribution of the riparian fig tree Ficus insipida Willd. along streams in the La Selva Biological Reserve and adjacent deforested lands. We also evaluated the potential seed dispersers of this tree relative to the role of the fruit-eating fish Brycon guatemalensis that previously was proposed to be an important disperser of F. insipida seeds in this system. At La Selva, we recorded the fig-foraging activities of vertebrates at fruiting F. insipida trees, surveyed for the presence or absence of F. insipida along streams of different sizes, and determined the fate of fig seedlings transplanted in different riparian habitats. In the greenhouse, we measured seed germination and seedling survival and growth under different light and soil pH conditions mimicking natural conditions. The findings provided evidence that (1) the tree occurs along the larger streams running through forest habitat and only along smaller streams with relatively high light availability; (2) bats (Artibeus spp.) and fish are the major dispersers of F. insipida seeds; (3) the seedlings are subject to mortality not only from low light conditions but also from treefalls, frequent flooding, and bank erosion; and (4) high light levels and near neutral soil pH result in relatively better seed germination, faster growth, and higher survival rates of seedlings. Overall, our results suggest that this fig tree is dispersed mainly by bats and fish and is more establishment-limited than disperser-limited in its local distribution in the La Selva rain forest habitat.
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Vol. 34 • No. 2