Context-dependent fruit–frugivore interactions: partner identities and spatio-temporal variations


R. Perea, Depto de Silvopascicultura, ETSI, Montes, Univ. Politécnica de Madrid, Ciudad Universitaria s/n, ES-28040 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


Fruit–frugivore interactions are crucial for the dynamics and regeneration of most forested ecosystems. Still, we lack an understanding of the potential variation in the sign and strength of such interactions in relation to variations in the spatial and temporal ecological context. Here, we evaluated spatial (three sites) and temporal (two fruiting seasons) local variation in the sign (seed predation versus dispersal) and strength (frequency and quantity) of the interactions among six frugivorous mammals and a community of Mediterranean fleshy-fruited shrubs. We examined mammal faecal samples and quantified frequency of seed occurrence, number of seeds per faecal sample, seed species diversity and quality of seed treatment (i.e. percentage of undamaged seeds). The frequency of seed occurrence and number of seeds per faecal sample strongly varied among dispersers, sites, seasons and fruit species. For instance, fox Vulpes vulpes faeces showed between 6 and 40 times more seeds than wild boar Sus scrofa faeces in seasons or sites in which Rubus and Juniperus seeds were dominant. However, in seasons or sites dominated by Corema seeds, wild boar faeces contained up to seven times more seeds than fox faeces. Mammalian carnivores (fox and badger, Meles meles) treated seeds gently, acting mostly as dispersers, whereas deer (Cervus elaphus and Dama dama) acted mainly as seed predators. Interestingly, rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus acted as either mostly seed disperser or seed predator depending on the plant species. Our results indicated that the sign of fruit–frugivore interactions depended mainly on the identity of the partners. For a particular fruit–frugivore pair, however, our surrogate of interaction strength largely varied with the spatio-temporal context (year and habitat), leading to a low specificity across the seed–frugivore network. The high spatio-temporal variability of seed dispersal (in quantity, quality and seed diversity) by different frugivores would confer resilience against unpredictable environmental conditions, such as those typical of Mediterranean ecosystems.