Can remnant frugivore species effectively disperse tree seeds in secondary tropical rain forests?

  • Babweteera F
  • Brown N
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Abstract

Seed dispersal by frugivores in tropical rain forests is important for maintaining viable tree populations. Over the years, vertebrate assemblages in tropical forests have been altered by anthropogenic disturbances, leading to concerns about the ability of remnant vertebrates to substitute for the lost or declining vertebrate populations. We compared vertebrate composition and frugivore visitation rates as an indirect measure of rate of seed dispersal in three tropical rain forests in Uganda, namely Mabira, Budongo and Kibale Forests. Mabira is highly disturbed, Kibale is little and Budongo is intermediate. The aim was to determine whether vertebrate assemblages in differentially disturbed forests had comparable abilities to disperse seeds and whether tree species were equally vulnerable to loss of seed dispersers. Assemblages of forest generalist species were similar in all forests, but specialists were less abundant in the heavily disturbed forest. Remnant frugivores in the heavily disturbed forest were mainly small-bodied species that spat seeds beneath fruiting trees compared to large-bodied species observed in the less disturbed forests that ingested and carried away the seeds. We postulate that the quantity of seeds dispersed in heavily disturbed forests is much reduced due to low visitation rates of frugivores and the absence of large frugivores that consume large quantities of fruit. The quality of seed dispersal is affected as well by the distance over which seeds are moved. Assessment of vulnerability of trees shows no evidence for disperser substitution for trees producing large fruits. Fruit trees with low nutritional contents and digestibility were least visited in frugivore-impoverished forests. The loss of large specialist frugivores is likely to affect recruitment of many trees, especially of species that cannot establish beneath adult conspecifics.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Disturbance
  • Fruit size
  • Hunting
  • Large vertebrates
  • Visitation rate

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Authors

  • Fred Babweteera

  • Nick Brown

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