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Above and below ground impacts of terrestrial mammals and birds in a tropical forest


  • Amy E. Dunham

A. E. Dunham (, Dept of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook Univ., Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA. Present address: Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice Univ., MS-170, 6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77005, USA.


Understanding the impact of losing trophic diversity has global significance for managing ecosystems as well as important theoretical implications for community and ecosystem ecology. In several tropical forest ecosystems, habitat fragmentation has resulted in declines and local extinctions of mammalian and avian terrestrial insectivores. To assess the ability of a tropical rainforest community in Ivory Coast to resist perturbation from such loss of trophic diversity, I traced feedbacks in above and below ground communities and measured changes in nutrient levels and herbivory rates in response to an experimental exclosure of avian and mammalian terrestrial insectivores. I present evidence that loss of this functional group may result in increased tree seedling herbivory and altered nutrient regimes through changes in the abundance and guild structure of invertebrates. Exclusion of top predators of the forest floor resulted in increased seedling herbivory rates and macro-invertebrate (>5 mm) densities with strongest effects on herbivorous taxa, spiders and earthworms. Densities of microbivores including Collembola, Acarina and Sciaridae showed the opposite trend as did levels of inorganic phosphorus in the soil. Results were evaluated using path analysis which supported the presence of a top down trophic cascade in the detrital web which ultimately affected turnover of phosphorus, a limiting nutrient in tropical soils. Results illustrate the potential importance of vertebrate predators in both above and belowground food webs despite the biotic diversity and structural heterogeneity of the rainforest floor.