Effects of palm heart harvesting on avian frugivores in the Atlantic rain forest of Brazil



1.  It has been suggested that palm fruits are keystone resources for frugivores in tropical rain forests, but no study has addressed this hypothesis. The effects of the harvesting of a dominant palm tree Euterpe edulis were studied over 2 years in the Atlantic forest of Brazil.

2.  The abundance of 15 large frugivorous birds from five families (Ramphastidae, Cracidae, Cotingidae, Trogonidae and Psittacidae) was estimated using unlimited distance point counts (IPA) and encounter rate.

3.  Although all species studied are known to eat Euterpe fruits, only one Cotingidae (Carpornis melanocephalus) and one Ramphastidae (Ramphastos vitellinus) were negatively affected by the removal of this palm from the forest.

4.  This result indicates that Euterpe palms in the lowland forests do not fulfil the role of keystone species, because they bear ripe fruits during the period of peak overall fruit availability and because birds may switch their diets to other food sources when palms are removed.

5.  Palm-heart exploitation is not recommended in small forest areas, nor in areas where E. edulis bears fruit during the period of overall fruit scarcity. Only long-term monitoring can evaluate the responses of the bird and mammal communities to the harvesting process.