Halting Regime Shifts in Floristically Intact Tropical Forests Deprived of Their Frugivores


J. F. Brodie, email jedediah.brodie@gmail.com


Ecological restoration typically focuses on promoting vegetation recovery in degraded habitat or reintroducing endangered animals to enhance their regional or global persistence. Here, we argue that attention should also be devoted to vertebrate reintroductions in overhunted but floristically intact tropical forests in order to prevent insidious regime shifts in these systems. Growing evidence suggests that tropical forests deprived of seed-dispersing animals exhibit replacement of fleshy fruiting trees by species with abiotic seed dispersal. Left unchecked, this process could eventually render the forest uninhabitable by frugivores through reduced density and diversity of their food plants. In tropical areas where hunting can be controlled, we contend that frugivore reintroduction, regulation of wild fruit harvest by humans, and outplanting of native fruiting trees should be deployed as management tools long before the systems are in need of traditional habitat restoration.