Reduced dispersal of native plant species as a consequence of the reduced abundance of frugivore species in fragmented rainforest
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Frugivorous animals disperse the seeds of the majority of rainforest plant species and hence play a key role in the trajectory of rainforest regeneration. This study investigated whether changes in the species composition of the frugivore community in fragmented rainforest in subtropical Australia is likely to impact the dispersal of native plant species. The potential of frugivorous bird and bat species to disperse the seeds of plant species in fragmented rainforest was assessed using published dietary information together with field surveys of frugivore abundance within intact forest, forest fragments and patches of regrowth. Frugivore species with reduced abundance in fragmented rainforest were the only known dispersers of 27 of the 221 native plant species in the data set (12% of species). These frugivore species were also major dispersers of plant species producing fruits wider than 10 mm and species from the families Rubiaceae, Lauraceae, Myrtaceae, Meliaceae, Lamiaceae and Vitaceae. Except for Rubiaceae, these plant taxa are also potentially dispersed by two of the frugivore species that were widespread in fragmented rainforest, Lopholaimus antarcticus and Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, although dispersal rates are likely to be lower in fragmented than in extensive rainforest. Consistent with other regions, large-seeded plants are susceptible to reduced dispersal in fragmented rainforest in subtropical Australia. However, we predict a smaller deficit in seed dispersal in fragmented forests than has been reported from other regions, due to factors such as functional overlap among frugivore species, the ability of many Australian rainforest vertebrates to persist in fragmented rainforest, and a lack of hunting in these forests. Nevertheless, rainforest fragmentation has reduced the abundance of a suite of frugivorous rainforest fauna, which in turn is likely to reduce the dispersal of a certain plant taxa and may alter patterns of plant regeneration in subtropical Australian rainforest fragments.
© 2009 Elsevier. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal's website for access to the definitive, published version.