ABSTRACT In Neotropical forests, large fruit‐eating primates play important ecological roles as dispersal agents of large seeds. Bushmeat hunting threatens to disrupt populations of primates and large‐seeded trees. We test the hypothesis that otherwise intact Neotropical forests with depressed populations of large primates experience decline in recruitment of large‐seeded trees. We quantify the proportion of small juveniles (> 0.5 m tall–1 cm diameter at breast height, DBH) of large primate‐dispersed tree species found underneath heterospecifc trees that are also dispersed by large primates at two protected sites in Manu National Park and one hunted site outside Manu N.P. in southeastern Peru. The forests are comparable in edaphic and climatic qualities, successional stage, and adult tree species composition. We found that hunting locally exterminates populations of large primates, and reduced primates of intermediate body size (hereafter “medium primates”) by 80 percent. Moreover, tree species richness was 55 percent lower and density of species dispersed by large and medium‐bodied primates 60 percent lower in hunted than in protected sites. In addition, richness and density of abiotically dispersed species and plants dispersed by non‐game animals are greater in hunted sites. Overhunting threatens to disrupt the ecological interactions between primates and the plants that rely on them for seed dispersal and recruitment. Sustainable wildlife management plans are urgently needed, because protected areas are at risk of becoming “island” parks if buffer zones become empty of animals and have impoverished flora.
Biotropica – Wiley
Published: May 1, 2007
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