Factors that influence tropical-forest regeneration have been of interest across the tropics. We tested the degree of dispersal and establishment limitation of pioneer and non-pioneer tree species with different dispersal modes and seed sizes, using data on both seed fall and seedling establishment in primary forest, secondary forest, and pasture excluded from livestock. The study took place in a lowland tropical rain forest in southeastern Mexico. To calculate dispersal and establishment limitation, we used a density-weighted index that considers: (1) whether a seed or seedling of a given species has arrived in the sample area; and (2) the fraction of seeds or seedlings contributed by a given species relative to the total number of seeds or seedlings arriving at a sampling station. Dispersal limitation of non-pioneer species and animal-dispersed species decreased with succession. The secondary forest had less dispersal limitation for wind-dispersed pioneers than pasture, resulting in a dense aggregation of species with seeds dispersed by wind. Overall, establishment limitation differed between animal-dispersed and wind-dispersed species in the primary forest, and was negatively correlated with seed size. The low capacity of most species to arrive, germinate, and establish as seedlings in pastures slows succession back to forest. To overcome barriers to natural succession in pastures, transplanting seedlings of non-pioneer species is suggested because most of them show high dispersal and establishment limitation.
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