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Dung beetle activity affects rain forest seed bank dynamics and seedling establishment

Urrea‐Galeano, Lina Adonay, Andresen, Ellen, Coates, Rosamond, Mora Ardila, Francisco, Ibarra‐Manríquez, Guillermo
Biotropica 2019 v.51 no.2 pp. 186-195
Coleoptera, artificial seeds, buried seeds, defecation, dung beetles, environmental impact, feces, field experimentation, mammals, plant establishment, predation, rain forests, seedlings, soil, tropical forests
Dung beetles relocate vertebrate feces under the soil surface, and this behavior has many ecological consequences. In tropical forests, for example, seeds defecated by mammals that are subsequently buried by dung beetles are less likely to suffer predation. While the effects of dung beetles on the fate of defecated seeds have been relatively well studied, their effect on seeds already buried in the soil has not. To contribute to fill this gap, we designed a study with three objectives: (a) Describe the vertical re‐distribution of soil seeds that occurs due to dung beetle activity; (b) Determine if beetle activity favors establishment of seedlings from the soil seed bank; and (c) Determine if the effect of dung beetles is stronger in sites of recurrent mammal defecation. We carried out three complementary field experiments, one with artificial seeds (plastic beads) of three sizes buried at known depths, one with two species of seeds buried at those same depths, and one with the natural soil seed bank in sites of single vs. recurrent defecation. Buried beads were moved by dung beetles along the vertical axis, both upwards (9.5%) and downwards (11.5%); smaller beads were more frequently moved downwards while the contrary occurred for larger beads. Dung beetle activity caused an increase in seedling establishment, both from experimentally buried seeds and from the natural seed bank. Defecation recurrence had no effect on seedling establishment. We conclude that dung beetle activity affects seed bank dynamics with important consequences for seedling establishment in tropical forests.Abstract in Spanish is available with online material.