Linking frugivore behavior to plant population dynamics

Authors

  • Yamila Sasal,

    1. Laboratorio Ecotono, INIBIOMA, Universidad Nacional del Comahue-CONICET, Pasaje Gutiérrez 1125. S. C. de Bariloche, AR-8400, Río Negro, Argentina.
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  • Juan Manuel Morales

    1. Laboratorio Ecotono, INIBIOMA, Universidad Nacional del Comahue-CONICET, Pasaje Gutiérrez 1125. S. C. de Bariloche, AR-8400, Río Negro, Argentina.
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Y. Sasal, Laboratorio Ecotono, INIBIOMA, Universidad Nacional del Comahue-CONICET, Pasaje Gutiérrez 1125. S. C. de Bariloche, AR-8400, Río Negro, Argentina. E-mail: yamila.sasal@conicet.gov.ar

Abstract

Despite the acknowledged importance of frugivores as seed dispersal agents we still lack a general understanding of the mechanisms by which these animals could shape plant populations and communities. We used a spatially explicit stochastic simulation to explore how frugivore movement decisions interact with landscape properties, thus affecting plant population dynamics through dispersal. The model simulated bird movement, foraging, seed deposition and plant recruitment. We assumed that plants lived only for one season and that recruitment was a function of local seed density. We also considered the effect of perches as non-food landscape features. Our simulation experiments consisted in varying the parameters governing bird foraging decisions in relation to 1) how fruit abundance biased their movement, and 2) how the willingness to visit a plant or perch decreased with distance to current location. Simulated plant population dynamics was strongly influenced by bird behavior. The scale of foraging decisions had a much stronger effect on plant dynamics than biases due to fruit abundance. Birds tended to concentrate their activities in the center of the landscape where plants became more abundant, increasing local competition. The presence of perches reduced this tendency resulting in larger population sizes. The importance of perches highlights the fact that behaviors other than foraging can have a strong impact on the patterns of seed deposition and hence on plant population dynamics. Several recent studies have combined animal movement data with seed retention time in order to predict seed dispersal kernels. These studies usually emphasize the ecological implications of the scale and shape of such kernels. However, our simulation results reveal that movement directionality and the fact that birds moved mostly among plants and perches can have a major impact on plant population dynamics.

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