, Volume 139, Issue 4, pp 604-616

Tree dispersal strategies in the littoral forest of Sainte Luce (SE-Madagascar)

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Zoochory is the most common mode of seed dispersal for the majority of plant species in the tropics. Based on the assumption of tight plant-animal interactions several hypotheses have been developed to investigate the origin of life history traits of plant diaspores and their dispersers, such as species-specific co-evolution, the low/high investment model (low investment in single fruits but massive fruiting to attract many different frugivores versus high investment in single fruits and fruit production for extended periods to provide food for few frugivores), and the evolution of syndromes which represent plant adaptations to disperser groups (e.g. birds, mammals, mixed). To test these hypotheses the dispersal strategies of 34 tree species were determined in the littoral forest of Sainte Luce (SE-Madagascar) with the help of fruit traps and tree watches. The impact of fruit consumers on the seeds was determined based on detailed behavioral observations. Phenological, morphological and biochemical fruit traits from tree species were measured to look for co-variation with different types of dispersal. No indication for species-specific co-evolution could be found nor any support for the low/high investment model. However dispersal syndromes could be distinguished as diaspores dispersed by birds, mammals or both groups (mixed) differ in the size of their fruits and seeds, fruit shape, and seed number, but not in biochemical traits. Five large-seeded tree species seem to depend critically on the largest lemur, Eulemur fulvus collaris, for seed dispersal. However, this does not represent a case of tight species-specific co-evolution. Rather it seems to be the consequence of the extinction of the larger frugivorous birds and lemurs which might also have fed on these large fruits. Nevertheless these interactions are of crucial importance to conserve the integrity of the forest.