Aim: The efficiency of animal-mediated seed dispersal is threatened by the decline of animal populations, especially in tropical forests. We hypothesise that large-seeded plants with animal-mediated dispersal tend to have limited geographic ranges and face an increased risk of extinction due to the potential decline in seed dispersal by large-bodied fruit-eating and seed-dispersing animals (frugivores). Location: Atlantic Forest, Brazil, South America. Taxon: Angiosperms. Methods: First, we collected dispersal-related traits (dispersal syndrome, fruit size, and seed size), growth form (tree, climber, and other) and preferred vegetation type (open and closed) data for 1052 Atlantic Forest plant species. Next, we integrated these with occurrence records, extinction risk assessments, and phylogenetic trees. Finally, we performed phylogenetic generalised least squares regressions to test the direct and interactive effects of dispersal-related traits and vegetation type on geographical range size. Results: Large-seeded species had smaller range sizes than small-seeded species, but only for species with animal-mediated dispersal, not for those dispersed by abiotic mechanisms. However, plants with abiotic dispersal had overall smaller range sizes than plants with animal-mediated dispersal. Furthermore, we found that species restricted to forests had smaller ranges than those occurring in open or mixed vegetation. Finally, at least 29% of the Atlantic Forest flora is threatened by extinction, but this was not related to plant dispersal syndromes. Main Conclusions: Large-seeded plants with animal-mediated dispersal may be suffering from dispersal limitation, potentially due to past and ongoing defaunation of large-bodied frugivores, leading to small range sizes. Other factors, such as deforestation and fragmentation, will probably modulate the effects of dispersal on range size, and ultimately extinction. Our study sheds light on the relationship between plant traits, mutualistic interactions, and distribution that are key to the functioning of tropical forests.

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Diversity and Distributions

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Staff publications

Petrocelli, Isis, Alzate, Adriana, Zizka, Alexander, & Onstein, R. (2024). Dispersal‐related plant traits are associated with range size in the Atlantic Forest. Diversity and Distributions, 2024(e13856). doi:10.1111/ddi.13856