Aim Coevolved relationships between individual species of birds and plants rarely occur in seed dispersal mutualisms. This study evaluates whether reciprocal relationships may occur between assemblages of bird and plant species.
Location Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada (48°50′-N, 125°22′-W).
Methods The distribution and fruiting phenologies of seven shrub species were compared to seasonal changes in habitat selection and seed dispersal by six fruit-eating bird species.
Results Shrub species inhabiting forest understorey habitat had earlier fruiting phenologies than shrub species inhabiting forest edge habitat along lake and bog margins. Birds showed a parallel pattern in habitat selection, being more abundant in the forest understorey early in the fruiting season, and more abundant in the forest edge later in the season. Rates of seed deposition covaried with avian habitat selection, in such a way that birds directed seed dispersal into habitats preferred by shrubs.
Conclusions These results depict a broad-scale pattern in the abundance of birds and fruits indicative of reciprocal interactions. Seasonal changes in seed dispersal to each habitat appear to reinforce the relationship between shrub habitat affinities and fruiting phenologies. Phenological differences between habitats may also reinforce seasonal changes in avian habitat selection. Therefore, although reciprocal interactions between pairs of bird and plant species are rare, broad-scale reciprocal relationships may occur between assemblages of bird and plant species.