Germination, seedling performance, and root production after simulated partial seed predation of a threatened Atacama Desert shrub
BACKGROUND: Seed loss to predators is a common phenomenon across plant communities and an important determinant of plant recruitment. Although seed predators commonly destroy the entire seed, partial seed consumption has been reported for many species; however, the degree to which seed mass loss affects germination dynamics and survival of new individuals has been poorly documented. We simulated seed damage in natural conditions to examine how different levels of cotyledonary reserve removal affect germination dynamics and seedling performance of Myrcianthes coquimbensis (Myrtaceae), a threatened Atacama Desert shrub. The experiment combined two levels of seed maturity with three levels of seed mass loss. RESULTS: Removal of the cotyledon reserves and seed maturity negatively affected the odds and the temporality of seedling emergence; nonetheless, seedlings were able to emerge from seed fragments, of either mature or immature seeds, that lost up to 75% of their original mass. Removal of cotyledonary reserves had negative effects on seedling size but no effect on root:shoot ratios. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that the loss of cotyledonary reserves in M. coquimbensis seeds is not necessarily lethal. Moreover, we posit that tolerance to partial seed consumption is likely a key reproductive strategy, which enables recruitment in this species.