, Volume 139, Issue 1, pp 66-75

Fruiting trees as dispersal foci in a semi-deciduous tropical forest

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Abstract

Quantification of seed rain patterns is an initial step toward explaining variation in plant recruitment, and consequently, organization of forest communities. Spatially contagious patterns of seed deposition, where seeds are patchily dispersed with some sites receiving relatively high densities and others receiving low densities of seeds, may be a common phenomenon for which we have very little knowledge. For example, prior feeding events by frugivores (monkeys and birds) combined with transport and dispersal of seeds to other fruiting trees may result in the contagious deposition of non-conspecific seeds below them. Here, we examined whether fruiting trees act as dispersal foci in the semi-deciduous tropical rainforest of the Dja Reserve, Cameroon. Seed rain was sampled below the canopies of nine tree species: three typically dispersed by large, frugivorous birds, three dispersed by monkeys, and three dispersed by wind. We found no evidence that monkeys generate spatially contagious patterns of seed rain under fruiting trees at which they feed. However, we found that rates of deposition of non-conspecific seeds and species richness of seeds delivered by birds (hornbills and turacos) were significantly greater during fruiting than non-fruiting periods, and significantly greater under fruiting individuals of bird-dispersed tree species than under fruiting individuals of monkey- or wind-dispersed tree species. Additionally, during fruiting periods, the composition of non-conspecific seed rain under bird-dispersed tree species was more similar to other bird-dispersed trees than to monkey- or wind-dispersed tree species. The contagious dispersal of non-conspecific seeds to fruiting, bird-dispersed trees leads to higher seed densities under fruiting trees than those caused by local seed production. Non-conspecific seeds deposited in high densities may experience increased seed mortality even far from parent trees if predators are generalists. Alternatively, in the absence of complete density-dependent mortality, contagious seed dispersal could result in associations among species dispersed by the same dispersal agent.