Velocity of the falling dispersal units in Zelkova abelicea: remarkable evolutionaly conservation within the relict tree genus

Daniele Certini, Laurence Fazan, Naomi Nakayama, Ignazio Maria Viola, Gregor Kozlowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PREMISE: Seed dispersal is extremely important for the recovery and restoration of forest communities. Relict tree genus Zelkova possesses a unique dispersal mechanism: mature fruits fall with the entire twig, and the dried leaves that are still attached function as a drag-enhancing appendage, carrying the fruits away from the parent tree. This singular adaptation has never been investigated in Z. abelicea. METHODS: Drop tests with dispersal units and individual fruits of Z. abelicea were performed in controlled conditions to measure their dispersal velocity and to define their flight mode.
RESULTS: Zelkova abelicea utilizes both slowly falling dispersal units with chaotic motion, as well as fast falling individual fruits using the straight path. The falling velocity of Z. abelicea dispersal units is 1.53 m s-1, which is virtually identical to that of the East-Asiatic Z. serrata (1.51 m s-1). In contrast, the falling velocity of individual fruits was m s-1 (Z. serrata:
5.36 m s-1).
CONCLUSIONS: Members of the genus Zelkova, growing today in distant regions, show remarkable evolutionary conservation of the velocity and flight mechanics of their dispersal units. This is surprising since the Mediterranean and East Asiatic Zelkova species have been separated at least 15-20 Mya. Zelkova abelicea, although growing in the Mediterranean with completely different forest structure and composition, still uses the same dispersal mechanism. The dispersal capacity of the genus Zelkova is less efficient than that of other wind dispersed trees, and it presumably evolved for short-distance ecological spread and not for long-distance biogeographical dispersal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1831-1838
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2020


  • Crete
  • diaspore flight dynamics
  • relict tree
  • seed dispersal
  • terminal velocity
  • threatened species
  • Ulmaceae
  • wind dispersal

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