Fungi and insects compensate for lost vertebrate seed predation in an experimentally defaunated tropical forest

Peter Jeffrey Williams, Robert C. Ong, Jedediah F. Brodie, Matthew Scott Luskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations

Abstract

Overhunting reduces important plant-animal interactions such as vertebrate seed dispersal and seed predation, thereby altering plant regeneration and even above-ground biomass. It remains unclear, however, if non-hunted species can compensate for lost vertebrates in defaunated ecosystems. We use a nested exclusion experiment to isolate the effects of different seed enemies in a Bornean rainforest. In four of five tree species, vertebrates kill many seeds (13–66%). Nonetheless, when large mammals are excluded, seed mortality from insects and fungi fully compensates for the lost vertebrate predation, such that defaunation has no effect on seedling establishment. The switch from seed predation by generalist vertebrates to specialist insects and fungi in defaunated systems may alter Janzen–Connell effects and density-dependence in plants. Previous work using simulation models to explore how lost seed dispersal will affect tree species composition and carbon storage may require reevaluation in the context of functional redundancy within complex species interactions networks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1650
JournalNature Communications
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

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