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Seed dispersal, spatial distribution and population structure of Brazilnut trees (Bertholletia excelsa) in southeastern Amazonia

  • Carlos A. Peres (a1) and Claudia Baider (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 July 2009

Seeds of the Brazilnut tree (Bertholletia excelsa Humb. & Bonpl., Lecythidaceae) sustain one of the most important extractive industries in neotropical forests. Yet little is known about the demography and seed dispersal ecology of Bertholletia, particularly in natural stands which have not been previously harvested. This study presents data on the population density, spatial distribution, and seed dispersal ecology of Brazilnut trees at a pristine stand located within the Kayapó Indian Area of southeastern Amazonia, Pará, Brazil. Brazilnut trees were primarily found within groves (castanhais) of 75 to 149 trees, with a few isolated trees in between. Although the density of trees ≥ 10 cm in diameter at breast height (hereafter, dbh) at two groves was 4.8 to 5.1 trees ha–1, the overall density for the entire study area of c. 950 ha was estimated at 1.3 tree ha–1. Within-grove nearest neighbour distances averaged 21 m and were markedly skewed towards even shorter distances. Seed dispersal experiments using 709 marked seeds indicated that this pattern can be largely explained by the highly restricted seed shadows imparted by the main seed dispersal agents of Bertholletia at this site, the red-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta leporina). Agoutis on average scatterhoard Bertholletia seeds to an average distance of 5 m, and rarely beyond 20 m, from seed stations. We suggest that, once edaphic and climatic conditions are suitable, the highly contagious spatial distribution of Bertholletia trees at the landscape level can be largely accounted for by the quantitatively dominant effect of short-distance dispersal by caviomorph rodents, and rare events of long-distance dispersal provided by other vectors. This mechanism of grove formation need not resort to untested conjectures of human dispersal and intentional planting in prehistoric and historic times as it has often been suggested in the literature.


Semestes da castanheira do pará (Bertholletia excelsa Humb. & Bonpl., Lecythidaceae) são a base de uma indústria extrativista de alta importância socioecônomica em florestas neotropicais. Apesar disso, sabe-se pouco a cerca da demografia da espécie e da ecologia da dispersão de suas sementes. Este estudo mostra dados relativos a densidade populacional, a distribuição espacial, e a ecologia de dispersão de sementes de uma populaçao natural de Bertholletia localizada na Área Indígena Kayapó, sudeste da Amazônia, Pará, Brasil. Castanheiras com diâmetro a altura do peito (dap) ≥ 10 cm foram encontradas em agregados naturais (ou castanhais) com 75 a 149 árvores, com alguns individuos isolados entre eles. A densidade de indivíduos em dois castanhais variou entre 4.8 e 5.1 ind. ha−1, enquanto que a densidade em toda a área de estudo (c. 950 ha) foi estimada em 1.3 ind. ha−1. Dentro de um castanhal, a distância média ao vizinho mais próiximo foi de 21 m, com um forte desvio a distâncias ainda mais curtas. Um experimento de dispersão de sementes, baseado em 709 sementes marcadas, mostrou que isso pode ser decorrente do alcance restrito da dispersão efetivada por cotias (no caso Dasyprocta leporina), o principal agente dispersor de sementes de Bertholletia. Em média, cotias enterraram as sementes a 5 m do ponto amostral, e raramente ultrapassando 20 m. Nós sugerimos que, uma vez que as condições edáficas e climáticas sejam adequadas, a distribuição altamente agregada de Bertholletia pode ser perfeitamente explicada por urn padrão de dispersão a curta distância ocasionado por roedores caviomorfos, sendo raros os eventos de dispersão a longa distância decorrente de outros agentes. Dessa forma, o mecanismo de formação de agregados naturais não precisaria ser explicado por dispersão humana, através de plantios acidentais ou intencionais, como tern sido sugerido na literatura.

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