Interaction between ungulates and bruchid beetles and its effect on Acacia trees: modeling the costs and benefits of seed dispersal to plant demography
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- Rodríguez-Pérez, J., Wiegand, K. & Ward, D. Oecologia (2011) 167: 97. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-1964-6
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Integrative studies of plant–animal interactions that incorporate the multiple effects of interactions are important for discerning the importance of each factor within the population dynamics of a plant species. The low regeneration capacity of many Acacia species in arid savannas is a consequence of a combination of reduction in seed dispersal and high seed predation. Here we studied how ungulates (acting as both seed dispersers and herbivores) and bruchid beetles (post-dispersal seed predators) modulate the population dynamics of A. raddiana, a keystone species in the Middle East. We developed two simulation models of plant demography: the first included seed ingestion by ungulates and seed predation by bruchids, whereas the second model additionally incorporated herbivory by ungulates. We also included the interacting effects of seed removal and body mass, because larger ungulates destroy proportionally fewer seeds and enhance seed germination. Simulations showed that the negative effect of seed predation on acacia population size was compensated for by the positive effect of seed ingestion at 50 and 30% seed removal under scenarios with and without herbivory, respectively. Smaller ungulates (e.g., <35 kg) must necessarily remove tenfold more seeds than larger ungulates (e.g., >250 kg) to compensate for the negative effect of seed predation. Seedling proportion increased with seed removal in the model with herbivory. Managing and restoring acacia seed dispersers is key to conserving acacia populations, because low-to-medium seed removal could quickly restore their regeneration capacity.