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Fruit secondary compounds mediate the retention time of seeds in the guts of Neotropical fruit bats


Plants often recruit frugivorous animals to transport their seeds; however, gut passage can have varying effects on plant fitness depending on the physical and chemical treatment of the seed, the distance seeds are transported, and the specific site of deposition. One way in which plants can mediate the effects of gut passage on fitness is by producing fruit secondary compounds that influence gut-retention time (GRT). Using frugivorous bats (Carollia perspicillata: Phyllostomidae) and Neotropical plants in the genus Piper, we compared GRT of seeds among five plant species (Piper colonense, Piper peltatum, Piper reticulatum, Piper sancti-felicis, and Piper silvivagum) and investigated the role of fruit amides (piperine, piplartine and whole fruit amide extracts from P. reticulatum) in mediating GRT. Our results showed interspecific differences in GRT; P. reticulatum seeds passed most slowly, while P. silvivagum and P. colonense seeds passed most rapidly. Piplartine and P. reticulatum amide extracts decreased GRT, while piperine had no effect. In addition, we examined the effects of GRT on seed germination success and speed in laboratory conditions. For germination success, the effects were species specific; germination success increased with GRT for P. peltatum but not for other species. GRT did not influence germination speed in any of the species examined. Plant secondary compounds have primarily been studied in the context of their defensive role against herbivores and pathogens, but may also play a key role in mediating seed dispersal interactions.

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María Fernanda Obando Quesada provided invaluable assistance in the field. Martina Nagy assisted with animal care. Deane Bowers provided laboratory mentorship, and Larry Winship helped with the germination experiments. The Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion (SINAC)-Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía kindly allowed us to conduct the fieldwork in Costa Rica (Resoluciónes 017-2011-SINAC and 075-2012-SINAC). The Organization for Tropical Studies and La Selva Biological Station staff provided logistical support. This project was made possible by a National Science Foundation-Research Experience for Undergraduates grant DBI 0851933 awarded to J. W. B. through the Organization for Tropical Studies. Partial funding was also provided by National Science Foundation grant DEB 1210884 to S. R. W. and Deane Bowers, and a Samuel Morris Endowed Fund grant (2011) to J. W. B. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Justin W. Baldwin.

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Baldwin, J.W., Whitehead, S.R. Fruit secondary compounds mediate the retention time of seeds in the guts of Neotropical fruit bats. Oecologia 177, 453–466 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-3096-2

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  • Fruit chemistry
  • Seed dispersal
  • Amides
  • Carollia
  • Piper