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Environmental variability and the initiation of dispersal: turbulence strongly increases seed release.

Abstract

Dispersal is a critical process in ecology. It is an important biological driver of, for example, invasions, metapopulation dynamics, spatial pattern formation and pathogen movement. Much is known about the effect of environmental variability, including turbulence, on dispersal of diaspores. Here, we document experimentally the strong but under-explored influence of turbulence on the initiation of dispersal. Flower heads of two thistle species (Carduus nutans and Carduus acanthoides) with ripe seeds were exposed to series of laminar and turbulent air flows of increasing velocity in a wind tunnel. Seed release increased with wind speeds for both laminar and turbulent flows for both species. However, far more seeds were released, at significantly lower wind speeds, during turbulent flows. These results strongly suggest a need for more quantitative studies of abscission in the field, as well as dispersal models that incorporate variability in the diaspore release phase.

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