Phenology of seed ripening, release and wind dispersal

Phenology is the study of periodic life cycle events of living organisms and how these are influenced by environmental factors. Late phenological phases such as the timing of seed release and subsequent seed dispersal co
Phenology is the study of periodic life cycle events of living organisms and how these are influenced by environmental factors. Late phenological phases such as the timing of seed release and subsequent seed dispersal considerably affect ecology and evolution in plants. Since plants are mostly sessile organisms, seed dispersal is a crucial life cycle event for the ecology and evolution of plants. In fact, long-distance seed dispersal (LDD) is a very complex process in plant biology and significantly shapes the spatial and temporal dynamics of plant populations. For example, wind dispersal in plants is influenced by a variety of factors such as plant traits, habitat type and environmental conditions (e.g. wind speed). Considering the variability of wind conditions throughout the year, the timing of seed release and dispersal is known to have considerable effects on LDD. Even though late phenologies such as ripening duration and timing of seed release and subsequent dispersal are vital in estimating ecologically highly relevant LDD, these phenologies are not appropriately addressed in ecological research. The aim of this thesis is to gain insights into the factors that shape late plant phenologies. In particular, we address the following questions: which ecologically or evolutionary parameters drive the ripening process of plant species? How does the seasonal variability of wind affect the seed release phenology of plant species? How do these factors interact for plant species in different habitat types? 
In order to address these questions, we applied different methodological approaches, ranging from fieldwork and monitoring phenology to computational simulation studies and statistical modeling. To study the ripening process of species, we monitored the flowering, ripening and seed release phenology of more than 100 Central European plant species. We conducted computational simulation studies for estimating LDD by wind to study the phenology of seed release and the parameters determining LDD by wind. In conjunction with phenological data from literature, we used the obtained simulation results to investigate evidence for the existence of phenological adaptations towards LDD in 165 plant species. Further, we used the results from simulation studies of LDD by wind to disentangle the effects of species, habitat types and meteorological conditions and their interactions on the spatial spread of plant species. 
The results of the relationship between plant traits, phylogeny, the ripening process and climatic factors provide insights into the basic understanding of the ripening process of plants. We identified ecological factors that shape species’ ripening phenology and seed release timing. In particular, we suggest that the species’ seed weight, life form and phylogeny shapes ripening and seed release phenology. With the statistical models on species’ temperature demands for reproduction, we introduce data that that are well suitable for parametrization and further development of plant dispersal models. The results from the simulation study based on a seasonal perspective showed that heavier seeded tree species with medium wind dispersal potential (including genera Abies, Acer, Fraxinus and Larix) have a clear synchronisation of seed abscission with periods favouring LDD. These species, which are both ecologically and economically important, showed significant synchronisation of the highest rate of seed release with high wind-speed that promoted LDD by wind in wintertime. For the tree species mentioned, we suggest strong seasonal synchronisation as evidence for phenological adaptations in order to match favourable conditions during seed release. With a closer look at the wind conditions that promote LDD by wind, our results showed considerable differences in how specific wind conditions affect LDD in different species and habitat types. We suggest that LDD by wind in species from open habitats with high wind dispersal potential is likely to be driven by thermal updrafts that are mainly driven by the sun providing energy to the ground. By contrast, LDD of heavier-seeded species from open and forested habitats is more likely to be driven by storms that produce shear-driven turbulence. The results from this thesis contribute to an increased understanding of the complete dispersal process of plants and to making more realistic projections of (future) plant distribution.
The results obtained on factors driving ripening and release phenology provide valuable insights into their ecological and phylogenetic factor constraints. The implementation of more realistic assumptions in assessing species’ dispersal potential throughout the year could help considerably in improving landscape management (e.g. timing of mowing) and in the conservation of plant populations. The evidence found for phenological adaptations towards LDD in plants is an important step in understanding the evolutionary basis of LDD in these species.
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Author:Felix Heydel
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Oliver Tackenberg, Wolfgang Brüggemann
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2016/10/07
Year of first Publication:2016
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2016/09/27
Release Date:2016/10/24
HeBIS PPN:389461946
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie
Biologische Hochschulschriften (Goethe-Universität)
Licence (German):License Logo Veröffentlichungsvertrag für Publikationen

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