Evolutionary cascades induced by large frugivores

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Large, fruit-eating vertebrates have been lost from many of the world’s ecosystems. The ecological consequences of this defaunation can be severe, but the evolutionary consequences are nearly unknown because it remains unclear whether frugivores exert strong selection on fruit traits. I assessed the macroevolution of fruit traits in response to variation in the diversity and size of seed-dispersing vertebrates. Across the Indo-Malay Archipelago, many of the same plant lineages have been exposed to very different assemblages of seed-dispersing vertebrates. Phylogenetic analysis of >400 plant species in 41 genera and five families revealed that average fruit size tracks the taxonomic and functional diversity of frugivorous birds and mammals. Fruit size was 40.2–46.5% smaller in the Moluccas and Sulawesi (respectively), with relatively depauperate assemblages of mostly small-bodied animals, than in the Sunda Region (Borneo, Sumatra, and Peninsular Malaysia), with a highly diverse suite of large and small animals. Fruit color, however, was unrelated to vertebrate diversity or to the representation of birds versus mammals in the frugivore assemblage. Overhunting of large animals, nearly ubiquitous in tropical forests, could strongly alter selection pressures on plants, resulting in widespread, although trait-specific, morphologic changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11998-12002
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 7 2017


  • Defaunation
  • Hunting
  • Seed dispersal
  • Species interactions
  • Wallace Line


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