ABSTRACT The large ateline primates are efficient seed dispersers in Neotropical forests and hunting is driving their populations to extinction, but we do not know whether other frugivores could substitute primates in their ecological role as seed dispersers. In this study we test this possibility using a potential keystone species (Bursera inversa) at Tinigua Park, Colombia. This plant species allows us to compare seed removal rates between emergent, isolated trees, without primate visitors and trees with connected crowns. We used traps to estimate fruit production and seed removal rates in six different trees, and fruiting trees were observed during 2 yr to quantify the number of seeds manipulated by different animal species. We carried out seed predation experiments to test if seed removal by predators was affected by distance or density effects. We found that the most productive trees attracted more visiting species and seed removal rates differed among trees, the lowest corresponding to trees without primate access. Seed removal rates from the ground by predators were not higher below parental trees than away from them, but the distribution of saplings in the forest suggests that seed dispersal is advantageous. Although it is likely that the effect of primate extinctions will vary depending on tree species traits, conserving the populations of primate seed dispersers is critical to maintain the ecological processes in this forest.
Biotropica – Wiley
Published: Sep 1, 2005
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