What is Seed Dispersal?

Seed dispersal is the process by which seeds are spread or scattered from their parent plant to a new location. This is an important mechanism for plants to ensure their survival and the continuation of their species. Seeds can be dispersed by various means, including wind, water, animals, and even humans. In this glossary, we will explore the different methods of seed dispersal and their significance in the natural world.

Wind Dispersal

Wind dispersal, also known as anemochory, is a common method of seed dispersal in which seeds are carried away by the wind. This is particularly advantageous for plants that produce lightweight seeds with structures that aid in their dispersal, such as wings or hairs. These structures allow the seeds to be easily lifted and carried by the wind over long distances. Examples of plants that rely on wind dispersal include dandelions, maple trees, and daisies.

Water Dispersal

Water dispersal, or hydrochory, is another method of seed dispersal that relies on bodies of water to transport seeds. Plants that grow near water sources, such as rivers, lakes, or oceans, have adapted to disperse their seeds through this method. Some plants produce buoyant seeds that can float on the water’s surface, while others have fruits or seed pods that can float and release their seeds when they come into contact with water. Water dispersal is particularly important for plants in aquatic or wetland environments.

Animal Dispersal

Animal dispersal, or zoochory, is a widespread method of seed dispersal that involves animals as the primary agents. Animals can disperse seeds in various ways, including through ingestion, attachment to fur or feathers, or by carrying seeds in their beaks or mouths. This method is advantageous for plants as it allows them to reach new habitats and colonize different areas. Many plants have evolved to produce fruits or seeds that are attractive to animals, enticing them to consume or carry the seeds. Examples of animals involved in seed dispersal include birds, mammals, and even ants.

Explosive Dispersal

Explosive dispersal, also known as ballistochory, is a unique method of seed dispersal in which plants use mechanical force to propel their seeds away from the parent plant. This mechanism is often seen in plants that have fruits or seed pods that explode when ripe, releasing the seeds with great force. The explosive action helps the seeds to be dispersed over a larger area, increasing their chances of finding suitable conditions for germination. Examples of plants that employ explosive dispersal include the touch-me-not plant and the witch hazel.

Ant Dispersal

Ant dispersal, or myrmecochory, is a specialized form of animal dispersal that involves ants as the primary agents. Some plants have evolved to produce seeds with structures called elaiosomes, which are rich in nutrients and attract ants. The ants carry the seeds back to their nests, where they consume the elaiosomes and discard the seeds, effectively dispersing them away from the parent plant. This mutualistic relationship benefits both the plants, which gain dispersal, and the ants, which obtain food. Many spring-flowering plants, such as trilliums and bloodroots, rely on ant dispersal.

Human Dispersal

Human dispersal, also known as anthropochory, is a relatively recent method of seed dispersal that involves human activities. Humans have played a significant role in the dispersal of many plant species, intentionally or unintentionally. For example, humans have transported seeds across continents during exploration and colonization, leading to the introduction of non-native species in new environments. Additionally, human activities such as agriculture and gardening have contributed to the dispersal of domesticated plants and crops. Human dispersal can have both positive and negative impacts on ecosystems, depending on the species involved.

Significance of Seed Dispersal

Seed dispersal plays a crucial role in the survival and diversity of plant species. By dispersing their seeds to new locations, plants can colonize different habitats, escape competition, and establish populations in areas with suitable conditions for growth and reproduction. Seed dispersal also helps to maintain genetic diversity within plant populations, as seeds are dispersed over a wide area, reducing the chances of inbreeding and promoting the exchange of genetic material. Additionally, seed dispersal contributes to the overall biodiversity of ecosystems, as it allows for the establishment of new plant communities and the colonization of disturbed or barren areas.


In conclusion, seed dispersal is a fascinating and essential process that allows plants to spread their seeds and ensure their survival. The different methods of seed dispersal, including wind, water, animals, explosive action, ants, and even humans, each have their own unique characteristics and significance. Understanding seed dispersal is crucial for ecologists, botanists, and conservationists, as it helps us comprehend the dynamics of plant populations and ecosystems. By studying and appreciating the mechanisms of seed dispersal, we can better protect and conserve the incredible diversity of plant life on our planet.