Predicting how defaunation-induced changes in seed predation and dispersal will affect tropical tree populations

Peter Jeffrey Williams, Jedediah F. Brodie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The loss of large animals due to overhunting and habitat loss potentially affects tropical tree populations and carbon cycling. Trees reliant on large-bodied seed dispersers are thought to be particularly negatively affected by defaunation. But besides seed dispersal, defaunation can also increase or decrease seed predation. It remains unclear how these different defaunation effects on early life stages ultimately affect tree population dynamics. We reviewed the literature on how tropical animal loss affects different plant life stages, and we conducted a meta-analysis of how defaunation affects seed predation. We used this information to parameterize models that altered matrix projection models from a suite of tree species to simulate defaunation-caused changes in seed dispersal and predation. We assessed how applying these defaunation effects affected population growth rates. On average, population-level effects of defaunation were negligible, suggesting that defaunation may not cause the massive reductions in forest carbon storage that have been predicted. In contrast to previous hypotheses, we did not detect an effect of seed size on changes in seed predation rates. The change in seed predation did not differ significantly between exclosure experiments and observational studies, although the results of observational studies were far more variable. Although defaunation surely affects certain tree taxa, species that benefit or are harmed by it and net changes in forest carbon storage cannot currently be predicted based on available data. Further research on how factors such as seed predation vary across tree species and defaunation scenarios is necessary for understanding cascading changes in species composition and diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14014
Pages (from-to)e14014
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • caza excesiva
  • demografía de árboles
  • fragmentación
  • fragmentation
  • interacciones planta-animal
  • overhunting
  • plant–animal interactions
  • tree demography
  • Trees
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Forests
  • Seeds
  • Seed Dispersal
  • Animals
  • Tropical Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • Conservation of Natural Resources


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