Can Functional Traits Predict Ecological Interactions? A Case Study Using Rain forest Frugivores and Plants in Australia
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In rain forest, the large numbers of species of fleshy-fruited plants and frugivorous animals result in a large number of potential fruit-frugivore interactions, which are challenging to survey in the field. Yet, knowledge of these relationships is needed to predict consequences of changes in the frugivore assemblage for seed dispersal. In the absence of comprehensive dietary information, it may be possible to delineate between frugivores that disperse different plants using 'functional traits,' or morphological and behavioral attributes of frugivores that interact with differences in salient characteristics of plant species. Here we use data on the consumption of 244 Australian rain forest plant species by 38 bird species to test for associations between patterns of frugivory and birds': (1) degree of frugivory, (2) gape width, and (3) seed treatment (seed crushing or seed dispersing). Degree of frugivory and gape width explain 74 percent of the variation in the sizes of fruits consumed by frugivorous birds. Among birds that consume a substantial dietary proportion of fruit, birds with wider gapes consume larger fruits. In contrast, this relationship was not shown by birds for which fruit is only a minor dietary component. Degree of frugivory and gape width, together with seed treatment, also strongly predict the overall taxonomic composition and diversity of plants consumed by bird species. Functional classifications of frugivore species may prove useful in developing a predictive understanding of fruit-frugivore interactions in other rain forest regions where detailed dietary information is not available for most frugivores.
© 2010 Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation Inc. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. This is the author-manuscript version of the paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. The definitive version is available at www.interscience.wiley.com
Biological Sciences not elsewhere classified