Habitat Fragmentation Alters the Distance of Abiotic Seed Dispersal Through Edge Effects and Direction of Dispersal

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Habitat loss and fragmentation are leading causes of species declines, driven in part by reduced dispersal. Isolating the effects of fragmentation on dispersal, however, is daunting because the consequences of fragmentation are typically intertwined, such as reduced connectivity and increased prevalence of edge effects. We used a large-scale landscape experiment to separate consequences of fragmentation on seed dispersal, considering both distance and direction of local dispersal. We evaluated seed dispersal for five wind- or gravity-dispersed, herbaceous plant species that were planted at different distances from habitat edges, within fragments that varied in their connectivity and shape (edge-to-area ratio). Dispersal distance was affected by proximity and direction relative to the nearest edge. For four of five species, dispersal distances were greater further from habitat edges and when seeds dispersed in the direction of the nearest edge. Connectivity and patch edge-to-area ratio had minimal effects on local dispersal. Our findings illustrate how some, but not all, landscape changes associated with fragmentation can affect the key population process of seed dispersal.