Dispersal potential of Scaevola crassifolia (Goodeniaceae) is influenced by intraspecific variation in fruit morphology along a latitudinal environmental gradient
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Dispersal of plant propagules by ocean currents can result in long-distance dispersal and is important for the persistence of coastal species. However, the ability of such species to disperse via the ocean is often unknown because there is relatively little evidence that demonstrates that seeds or fruits can float and survive for extended periods in seawater. Furthermore, the seed or fruit traits, and intraspecific variation in these traits, that facilitate buoyancy remain largely unidentified. The genus Scaevola (L.) contains several widespread coastal species that may be capable of oceanic dispersal, such as S. crassifolia (Labill). We collected fruits of S. crassifolia along 700 km of a latitudinal environmental gradient. These fruits were used to determine the influence of fruit morphology and anatomy on fruit buoyancy. Morphological and anatomical variation in S. crassifolia was associated with dispersal potential. Our empirical data demonstrated that fruits with larger aeriferous mesocarp layers have greater buoyancy and, therefore, enhanced capacity for long range oceanic dispersal. Of three characters hypothesised to affect buoyancy (aeriferous mesocarp, air pockets in empty locules, and number of vascular cavities), only the properties of the mesocarp were significant. Intraspecific variation can significantly affect dispersal potential, and should not be overlooked in dispersal ecology.
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