Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Improving measurements of the falling trajectory and terminal velocity of wind-dispersed seeds


Zhu, Jinlei; Buchmann, Carsten; Schurr, Frank (2022), Improving measurements of the falling trajectory and terminal velocity of wind-dispersed seeds, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Seed dispersal by wind is one of the most important dispersal mechanisms in plants. The key seed trait affecting seed dispersal by wind is the effective terminal velocity (hereafter “terminal velocity”, Vt), the maximum falling speed of a seed in still air. Accurate estimates of Vt are crucial for predicting intra- and interspecific variation in seed dispersal ability. However, existing methods produce biased estimates of Vt for slow- or fast-falling seeds, fragile seeds, and seeds with complex falling trajectories.

2. We present a new video-based method that estimates the falling trajectory and Vt of wind-dispersed seeds. The design involves a mirror that enables a camera to simultaneously record a falling seed from two perspectives. Automated image analysis then determines three-dimensional seed trajectories at high temporal resolution. To these trajectories, we fit a physical model of free fall with air resistance to estimate Vt. We validated this method by comparing the estimated Vt of spheres of different diameters and materials to theoretical expectations, and by comparing the estimated Vt of seeds to measurements in a vertical wind tunnel.

3. Vt estimates closely match theoretical expectations for spheres and vertical wind tunnel measurements for seeds. However, our Vt estimates for fast-falling seeds are markedly higher than those in an existing trait database. This discrepancy seems to arise because previous estimates inadequately accounted for seed acceleration. 

4. The presented method yields accurate, efficient and affordable estimates of the three-dimensional falling trajectory and terminal velocity for a wide range of seed types. The method should thus advance the understanding and prediction of wind-driven seed dispersal.