Degree of intervention affects interannual and within-plot heterogeneity of seed arrival in tropical forest restoration.
In degraded tropical landscapes, lack of seed dispersal can strongly limit recovery, and restoration interventions can overcome this barrier by attracting dispersers. However, seed dispersal patterns are typically studied over short time periods, thus the influences of temporal and spatial variability on seed arrival cannot be teased apart. The choice of management approach can have important implications for restoration-mediated community reassembly. Accordingly, we used a 3.5-year record of seed deposition in pre-montane tropical wet forest in southern Costa Rica to examine how seed arrival differed between passive (natural regeneration) and active (applied nucleation, plantation) restoration after a decade of recovery, compared to remnant forest. We investigated: (a) how restoration treatments affected seed deposition rates and community composition; (b) how within-plot heterogeneity of animal-dispersed seed deposition varied by intervention; and (c) how interannual variation influenced animal-dispersed seed arrival across treatments. Overall seed rain composition and diversity in restoration treatments was converging towards, but still differed substantially from, remnant forest (89.7%, 86.6% and 76.3% Shannon diversity recovered in applied nucleation, plantation and natural regeneration respectively). Within-plot animal-dispersed seed heterogeneity was similar in applied nucleation and remnant forest, 27.0% more heterogeneous in applied nucleation than plantation, and equivalent when comparing natural regeneration to either applied nucleation or plantation. In contrast to active interventions, animal-dispersed tree and shrub communities did not differ year to year in natural regeneration, which may promote the assembly of relatively homogeneous plant communities at this successional stage.