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Keywords:

  • Congo basin;
  • forest ecology;
  • germination activation;
  • plant–animal interaction;
  • seed dispersal;
  • zoochory

A positive interaction is any interaction between individuals of the same or different species (mutualism) that provides a benefit to both partners such as increased fitness. Here we focus on seed dispersal mutualism between an animal (bonobo, Pan paniscus) and a plant (velvet tamarind trees, Dialium spp.). In the LuiKotale rainforest southwest of Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, seven species of the genus Dialium account for 29.3% of all trees. Dialium is thus the dominant genus in this forest. Dialium fruits make up a large proportion of the diet of a habituated bonobo community in this forest. During the 6 months of the fruiting season, more than half of the bonobos’ feeding time is devoted to Dialium fruits. Furthermore, Dialium fruits contribute a considerable proportion of sugar and protein to bonobos’ dietary intake, being among the richest fruits for these nutrients. Bonobos in turn ingest fruits with seeds that are disseminated in their feces (endozoochory) at considerable distances (average: 1.25 km after 24 hr of average transit time). Endozoochory through the gut causes loss of the cuticle protection and tegumentary dormancy, as well as an increase in size by water uptake. Thus, after gut passage, seeds are better able to germinate. We consider other primate species as a potential seed disperser and conclude that Dialium germination is dependent on passage through bonobo guts. This plant–animal interaction highlights positive effects between two major organisms of the Congo basin rainforest, and establishes the role of the bonobo as an efficient disperser of Dialium seeds. Am. J. Primatol. 75:394-403, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.