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Fruit size, crop mass, and plant height explain differential fruit choice of primates and birds

Flörchinger, Martina, Braun, Julius, Böhning-Gaese, Katrin, Schaefer, H. Martin
Oecologia 2010 v.164 no.1 pp. 151-161
Primates, birds, color, forests, frugivores, fruit consumption, fruit crops, fruits, phenols, phylogeny, plant characteristics, seed dispersal, sugars, tannins, trees, Kenya
Seed dispersal by animals is an important ecological process shaping plant regeneration. In general, seed dispersers are highly variable and often opportunistic in their fruit choice. Despite much research, the factors that can explain patterns of fruit consumption among different animal groups remain contentious. Here, we analysed the interactions between 81 animal species feeding on the fruits of 30 plant species in Kakamega Forest, Kenya, during 840 h of observations. Our aim was to determine whether plant characteristics, fruit morphology, fruit colours and/or fruit compounds such as water, sugar, phenols and tannins explained the relative importance of fruit consumption by the two most important consumer groups, primates and birds. We found significant differences in fruit choice between both groups. Primates fed on larger fruits and on higher trees that had larger fruit crops, whereas birds were observed feeding on smaller fruits and on smaller plants producing fewer fruits. Fruit colours did not differ between fruits consumed by primates and those consumed by birds. However, differences in the fruit choice among frugivorous birds were associated with differences in fruit colours. Smaller plants with smaller fruits produced red fruits which contrasted strongly with the background; these fruits were dispersed by a distinct set of bird species. The contents of water, sugar, phenols and tannins did not differ between fruits eaten by primates and those eaten by birds. Some phylogenetic patterns were apparent; primates fed preferentially on a phylogenetically restricted subsample of large plants with large fruits of the subclass Rosidae. We discuss why the observed primate dispersal syndrome is most likely explained by a process of ecological fitting.