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Effects of howler monkey reintroduction on ecological interactions and processes

Genes, Luísa, Fernandez, Fernando A. S., Vaz‐de‐Mello, Fernando Z., da Rosa, Patrícia, Fernandez, Eduardo, Pires, Alexandra S.
Conservation biology 2019 v.33 no.1 pp. 88-98
Alouatta, Coleoptera, diet, dung beetles, ecological competition, feces, forest regeneration, forests, frugivores, seed dispersal, seed size
Rewilding has been an increasingly popular tool to restore plant–animal interactions and ecological processes impaired by defaunation. However, the reestablishment of such processes has seldom been assessed. We investigated the restoration of ecological interactions following the reintroduction of the brown howler monkey (Alouatta guariba) to a defaunated Atlantic forest site. We expected the reintroduction to restore plant–animal interactions and interactions between howlers and dung beetles, which promote secondary seed dispersal. We estimated the number of interactions expected to be restored by the reintroduction to provide the baseline interaction richness that could be restored. We followed the reintroduced howler monkeys twice a week for 24 months (337 hours total) to assess their diet. We used howler monkey dung in secondary seed dispersal experiments with 2484 seed mimics to estimate the removal rates by dung beetles and collected the beetles to assess community attributes. We compared the potential future contribution of howler monkeys and other frugivores to seed dispersal based on the seed sizes they disperse in other areas where they occur. In 2 years, howler monkeys consumed 60 animal‐dispersed plant species out of the 330 estimated. Twenty‐one dung beetle species were attracted to experimentally provided dung; most of them were tunnelers, nocturnal, and large‐sized (>10 mm). On average 30% (range 0–100%) of the large seed mimics (14 mm) were moved by dung beetles. About 91% of the species consumed by howlers (size range 0.3–34.3 mm) overlapped in seed size with those removed by dung beetles. In our study area, howler monkeys may consume more large‐seeded fruit species than most other frugivores, highlighting their potential to affect forest regeneration. Our results show reintroductions may effectively restore ecological links and enhance ecological processes.