, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 225-231
Date: 16 Oct 2009

Who really ate the fruit? A novel approach to camera trapping for quantifying frugivory by ruminants

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Abstract

Tropical forest ruminants disperse several plants; yet, their effectiveness as seed dispersers is not systematically quantified. Information on frequency and extent of frugivory by ruminants is lacking. Techniques such as tree watches or fruit traps adapted from avian frugivore studies are not suitable to study terrestrial frugivores, and conventional camera traps provide little quantitative information. We used a novel time-delay camera-trap technique to assess the effectiveness of ruminants as seed dispersers for Phyllanthus emblica at Mudumalai, southern India. After being triggered by animal movement, cameras were programmed to take pictures every 2 min for the next 6 min, yielding a sequence of four pictures. Actual frugivores were differentiated from mere visitors, who did not consume fruit, by comparing the number of fruit remaining across the time-delay photograph sequence. During a 2-year study using this technique, we found that six terrestrial mammals consumed fallen P. emblica fruit. Additionally, seven mammals and one bird species visited fruiting trees but did not consume fallen fruit. Two ruminants, the Indian chevrotain Moschiola indica and chital Axis axis, were P. emblica’s most frequent frugivores and they accounted for over 95% of fruit removal, while murid rodents accounted for less than 1%. Plants like P. emblica that are dispersed mainly by large mammalian frugivores are likely to have limited ability to migrate across fragmented landscapes in response to rapidly changing climates. We hope that more quantitative information on ruminant frugivory will become available with a wider application of our time-delay camera-trap technique.