Reproductive ecology of tropical forest trees in logged and fragmented habitats in Thailand and Costa Rica

  • Ghazoul J
  • McLeish M
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Invertebrates mediate several important ecological processes, including pollination and seed predation, and events that affect invertebrate diversity or behaviour can potentially disrupt forest regeneration processes. This study investigates the impact of logging in Thailand and forest fragmentation in Costa Rica on the pollination and seed production of two self-incompatible forest trees. Logging in a dry deciduous dipterocarp forest in Thailand resulted in reduced densities of the common dipterocarp tree Shorea siamensis and variably isolated individual trees. The number of flower visits to S. siamensis by pollinating Trigona bees was not affected by logging disturbance. However, pollinators did spend longer periods of time foraging in the canopies of isolated trees which were more prevalent in logged areas where tree density had been reduced. Consequently, at the logged site few cross-pollinations were effected and fruit set of S. siamensis was considerably lower than at nearby unlogged sites where distances between flowering conspecifics were smaller. Reduced fruit set has long-term implications for the recovery of S. siamensis populations in disturbed areas, and local population genetic structure is likely to be affected as reduced outcrossing rates among trees in disturbed regions results in relatively inbred seed. In Costa Rica forest fragmentation has restricted the once widespread tree Anacardium excelsum to forest patches located in an agriculturally-dominated landscape. As with S. siamensis, the abundance of pollinators, also Trigona bees, in the canopies of A. excelsum was largely unaffected by fragment size. Nevertheless, pollination success and seed production was positively correlated with fragment size. We propose that small bees rarely move between forest fragments and gene exchange through pollination occurs predominantly among trees within fragments and, together with likely low genetic variability in small fragments, that this contributes to the observed reduced fertilisation and seed set of A. excelsum. Thus increased tree isolation tree through selective logging or habitat fragmentation by forest clearance can result in reduced seed set due to changes in the foraging patterns of poorly mobile pollinators. Even if population sizes of the pollinators are maintained following environmental perturbation, this study shows that disturbance may disrupt pollination processes through changes in pollinator foraging behaviour. More attention needs to be focussed on changes in the behaviour of species involved in key ecological interactions following disturbance events in tropical forests.

Author-supplied keywords

  • habitat fragmentation
  • pollination

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  • J Ghazoul

  • M McLeish

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