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Habitat loss exacerbates regional extinction risk of the keystone semiarid shrub Ziziphus lotus through collapsing the seed dispersal service by foxes (Vulpes vulpes)

Cancio, Inmaculada, González-Robles, Ana, Bastida, Jesús M., Manzaneda, Antonio J., Salido, Teresa, Rey, Pedro J.
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.4 pp. 693-709
Vulpes vulpes, Ziziphus lotus, extinction, foxes, fruit consumption, fruits, habitat conservation, habitat destruction, habitats, land use, landscapes, natural regeneration, risk, seed dispersal, shrublands, shrubs, Spain
Habitat loss and landscape degradation affect animal-mediated seed dispersal, often collapsing the regeneration of endangered plant species and habitats in anthropogenic landscapes. We first compared the role of red fox and other vertebrates as seed disperser for the keystone scrub Ziziphus lotus. Because it turned out that foxes are the major Z. lotus dispersers, we investigated how fox activity and dispersal service relate to habitat loss and landscape alteration in the threatened Ziziphus semiarid scrublands, a priority habitat for conservation in Europe. Considering its opportunistic behavior, we hypothesized that landscape features should affect moderately fox abundance, while influence in a large extent its dispersal service. Accordingly, we predicted that a substantial decline in Ziziphus fruit consumption rather than in disperser activity would be responsible for seed dispersal collapse under severe habitat loss. We evaluated fox activity and dispersal service in 17 populations of Z. lotus spread through the range of its habitat in Spain and found within landscapes with different land-use intensity. We certified the collapse of the dispersal service by fox under severe habitat loss and confirmed that fox activity was less affected by habitat loss or landscape alteration than consumption of Ziziphus fruits. Consequently, the decline of consumption of Ziziphus fruits under severe habitat loss triggers the collapse of its seed dispersal. Results suggest that without increase of the remnant areas other managements may not suffice to achieve seed dispersal and habitat restoring. Dispersal service and natural regeneration in many Ziziphus habitat remnants will possibly cease in the future if habitat loss continues.