, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 324-337

Fruit characters as a basis of fruit choice and seed dispersal in a tropical forest vertebrate community

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Summary

Interactions between a large community of vertebrate frugivore-granivores (including 7 species of large canopy birds, 19 species of rodents, 7 species of ruminants, and 6 species of monkeys), and 122 fruit species they consume, were studied for a year in a tropical rainforest in Gabon.

The results show how morphological characters of fruits are involved in the choice and partitioning of the available fruit spectrum among consumer taxa. Despite an outstanding lack of specificity between fruit and consumer species, consideration of simple morphological traits of fruits reveals broad character syndromes associated with different consumer taxa. Competition between distantly related taxa that feed at the same height is far more important than has been previously supposed. The results also suggest how fruit characters could have evolved under consumer pressure as a result of consumer roles as dispersers or seed predators. Our analyses of dispersal syndromes show that fruit species partitioning occurs more between mammal taxa than between mammals and birds. There is thus a bird-monkey syndrome and a ruminant-rodent-elephant syndrome. The bird-monkey syndrome includes fruit species on which there is no pre-dispersal seed predation. These fruits (berries and drupes) are brightly colored, have a succulent pulp or arillate seeds, and no protective seed cover. The ruminant-rodent-elephant syndrome includes species for which there is pre-dispersal predation. These fruits (all drupes) are large, dull-colored, and have a dry fibrous flesh and well-protected seeds.