, Volume 149, Issue 4, pp 620–634

Reducing complexity when studying seed dispersal at community scales: a functional classification of vertebrate seed dispersers in tropical forests

Plant Animal Interactions


The process of seed dispersal has a profound effect on vegetation structure and diversity in tropical forests. However, our understanding of the process and our ability to predict its outcomes at a community scale are limited by the frequently large number of interactions associated with it. Here, we outline an approach to dealing with this complexity that reduces the number of unique interactions considered by classifying the participants according to their functional similarity. We derived a classification of dispersers based on the nature of the dispersal service they provide to plants. We described the quantities of fruit handled, the quality of handling and the diversity of plants to which the service is provided. We used ten broad disperser traits to group 26 detailed measures for each disperser. We then applied this approach to vertebrate dispersers in Australia’s tropical forests. Using this we also develop a classification that may be more generally applicable. For each disperser, data relating to each trait was obtained either from the field or published literature. First, we identified dispersers whose service outcomes were so distinct that statistical analysis was not required and assigned them to functional groups. The remaining dispersers were assigned to functional groups using cluster analysis. The combined processes created 15 functional groups from 65 vertebrate dispersers in Australian tropical forests. Our approach—grouping dispersers on the basis of the type of dispersal service provided and the fruit types it is provided to—represents a means of reducing the complexity encountered in tropical seed dispersal systems and could be effectively applied in community level studies. It also represents a useful tool for exploring changes in dispersal services when the distribution and abundance of animal populations change due to human impacts.


Rainforest Frugivores Granivores Ecosystem Landscape 

Supplementary material

442_2006_475_MOESM1_ESM.doc (30 kb)
Supplementary material (DOC 30 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems and the Rainforest CRCAthertonAustralia

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