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Intra-specific downsizing of frugivores affects seed germination of fleshy-fruited plant species

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Abstract

The loss of largest-bodied individuals within species of frugivorous animals is one of the major consequences of defaunation. The gradual disappearance of large-bodied frugivores is expected to entail a parallel deterioration in seed dispersal functionality if the remaining smaller-sized individuals are not so effective as seed dispersers. While the multiple impacts of the extinction of large bodied species have been relatively well studied, the impact of intraspecific downsizing (i.e. the extinction of large individuals within species) on seed dispersal has rarely been evaluated. Here we experimentally assessed the impact of body-size reduction in the frugivorous lizard Gallotia galloti (Lacertidae), an endemic species of the Canary Islands, on the seed germination patterns of two fleshy-fruited plant species (Rubia fruticosa and Withania aristata). Seed germination curves and the proportions of germinated seeds were compared for both plant species after being defecated by large-sized individuals and small-sized individuals. The data show that seeds of W. aristata defecated by larger-sized lizards germinated faster and in a higher percentage than those defecated by small-sized lizards, while no differences were found for R. fruticosa seeds. Our results suggest that disappearance of the largest individuals of frugivorous species may impair recruitment of some plant species by worsening seed germination. They also warn us of a potential cryptic loss of seed dispersal functionality on defaunated ecosystems, even when frugivorous species remain abundant.

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Pérez-Méndez, N., Rodríguez, A., & Nogales, M. (2018). Intra-specific downsizing of frugivores affects seed germination of fleshy-fruited plant species. Acta Oecologica, 86, 38–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actao.2017.11.017

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