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Drivers of bat roles in Neotropical seed dispersal networks: abundance is more important than functional traits

  • Plant-microbe-animal interactions – original research
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While functional traits can facilitate or constrain interactions between pair of species in ecological communities, relative abundances regulate the probabilities of encounter among individuals. However, the relative importance of traits and relative abundances for the role species play in seed dispersion networks remains poorly explored. Here, we analyzed 20 Neotropical seed dispersal networks distributed from Mexico to southeastern Brazil to evaluate how relative abundance and functional traits influence bat species’ roles in seed dispersal networks. We tested how bat relative abundance and traits relate to species contribution to between-module (c metric) and within-module connectivity (z metric) and their position and potential to mediate indirect effects between species (betweenness centrality). Our results indicate that relative abundance is the main determinant of the role bats play in the networks, while traits such as aspect ratio show modest yet statistically significant importance in predicting specific roles. Moreover, all seed dispersal networks presented two or three superabundant obligatory frugivore species that interacted with a high number of plants. The modest influence of the functional traits on species’ roles is likely related to the low variation of morphological traits related to foraging ecology, which reduces the chances of morphological mismatching between consumers and resources in the system. In this scenario, abundant bats have higher chances of encountering resources and being capable of consuming them which leads such species to play critical roles in the community by acting as module hubs and network connectors.

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We thank the Brazilian Army, Pindamonhangaba City Hall, and Débora Mascarenhas (from Renópolis Farm), São José dos Campos City Hall for logistic support and permission to work in lands under their responsibility. We thank Lívia Loureiro and Burton K. Lim (Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto) for morphometric measurements of some specimens. RSL, MCSM, RMM thank to the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior—Brasil (CAPES)—Finance Code 001. JVB thanks to the US Army CERL-ERDC for funding. DCT acknowledges the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation/CAPES (Project number 88881.162169/2017-01) for funding.

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RSL and JVB conceived and designed the study; RSL and MCSM conducted fieldwork; RSL and DCT analyzed the data; RSL, JVB, DCT, and RG wrote the manuscript; MCSM and RMM reviewed the manuscript; all authors approved the final version.

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Correspondence to Rafael de Souza Laurindo.

Additional information

Communicated by David M. Watson.

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Laurindo, R.S., Vizentin-Bugoni, J., Tavares, D.C. et al. Drivers of bat roles in Neotropical seed dispersal networks: abundance is more important than functional traits. Oecologia 193, 189–198 (2020).

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