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Frugivores bias seed‐adult tree associations through nonrandom seed dispersal: a phylogenetic approach

Razafindratsima, Onja H., Dunham, Amy E.
Ecology 2016 v.97 no.8 pp. 2094-2102
adults, ecosystems, frugivores, fruiting, phylogeny, plant communities, rain forests, seed dispersal, seeds, species recruitment, trees, Madagascar
Frugivores are the main seed dispersers in many ecosystems, such that behaviorally driven, nonrandom patterns of seed dispersal are a common process; but patterns are poorly understood. Characterizing these patterns may be essential for understanding spatial organization of fruiting trees and drivers of seed‐dispersal limitation in biodiverse forests. To address this, we studied resulting spatial associations between dispersed seeds and adult tree neighbors in a diverse rainforest in Madagascar, using a temporal and phylogenetic approach. Data show that by using fruiting trees as seed‐dispersal foci, frugivores bias seed dispersal under conspecific adults and under heterospecific trees that share dispersers and fruiting time with the dispersed species. Frugivore‐mediated seed dispersal also resulted in nonrandom phylogenetic associations of dispersed seeds with their nearest adult neighbors, in nine out of the 16 months of our study. However, these nonrandom phylogenetic associations fluctuated unpredictably over time, ranging from clustered to overdispersed. The spatial and phylogenetic template of seed dispersal did not translate to similar patterns of association in adult tree neighborhoods, suggesting the importance of post‐dispersal processes in structuring plant communities. Results suggest that frugivore‐mediated seed dispersal is important for structuring early stages of plant‐plant associations, setting the template for post‐dispersal processes that influence ultimate patterns of plant recruitment. Importantly, if biased patterns of dispersal are common in other systems, frugivores may promote tree coexistence in biodiverse forests by limiting the frequency and diversity of heterospecific interactions of seeds they disperse.