Despite the recognized importance of maintaining viable populations of keystone plant resources in tropical wildlife parks and forested preserves, the critical question of what constitutes effective breeding units of these species has not been directly addressed. Here we use paternity analysis techniques to reconstruct the genotypes of pollen donor trees and to estimate pollen dispersal distances and breeding population size parameters for Panamanian populations of seven species of monoecious strangler figs (Ficus, Moraceae), a particularly widespread and influential group of keystone producers1,2,3. Despite the minute size (1–2 mm) and short lifespan (2–3 d) of the species-specific wasp pollinators (Agaonidae, Chalcidoidea), pollen dispersal was estimated to occur routinely over distances of 5.8–14.2 km between widely spaced host trees. As a result of such extensive pollen movement, breeding units of figs comprise hundreds of intermating individuals distributed over areas of 106–632 km2, an order of magnitude larger than has been documented for any other plant species. Moreover, these results should be generalizable to the 350 or so monoecious fig species that share this pollination system4. The large areal extent of breeding units of these keystone plant resources has important implications for our understanding of both the evolution of tropical biodiversity and its maintenance by applied conservation efforts.
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We thank P. Aldrich, N. Ellstrand, T. Fleming, M. J. Godt, A. Graffen, K. Harms, M.Harris, E. Kalko, E. Leigh, R. May, K. Milton, S. Rand, J. Thomson and N. Waser for discussion. This work was supported by a grant from the NSF and was greatly aided by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and its facilities on BCI.
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Nason, J., Herre, E. & Hamrick, J. The breeding structure of a tropical keystone plant resource. Nature 391, 685–687 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/35607
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