Plant recruitment in tropical forests reflects the chance that seeds arrive at a site resulting in seedling establishment. To inform tropical forest restoration, we ask how seed and seedling densities differentially affect dispersal and establishment limitation in successional habitats in a tropical agricultural landscape. Methods: In Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, we calculated indices of dispersal and establishment limitation using data on seed rain and seedling establishment in old-growth forest, secondary forest, and fenced pasture. We present an index that considers variations in dispersal- and establishment-limitation including density-weighted calculations. Results: There were greater dispersal and establishment limitations in pasture than in forests. Substantial differences in both dispersal and establishment limitation occurred among the 33 species for which seed and seedling data were available. Only 5% of all species had mid to low limitation in both dispersal and establishment. In contrast, 60% of all species showed high dispersal and establishment limitation. Plant recruitment in pastures is impeded by low seed arrival, given that 77% of the recorded species showed extremely high dispersal limitation (>90%). Conclusions: The low capacity of most species to arrive, seeds to germinate and seedlings to establish in pastures slow down succession back to forest.
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