Regenerated forests now compose over half of the world's tropical forest cover and are increasingly important as providers of ecosystem services, freshwater, and biodiversity conservation. Much of the value and functionality of regenerating forests depends on the plant diversity they contain. Tropical forest diversity is strongly shaped by mutualistic interactions between plants and fruit-eating animals (frugivores) that disperse seeds. Here we show how seed dispersal by birds can influence the speed and diversity of early successional forests in Puerto Rico. For two years, we monitored the monthly fruit production of bird-dispersed plants on a fragmented landscape, and measured seed dispersal activity of birds and plant establishment in experimental plots located in deforested areas. Two predominantly omnivorous bird species, the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) and the Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis), proved critical for speeding up the establishment of woody plants and increasing the species richness and diversity of the seed rain in deforested areas. Seed dispersal by these generalists increased the odds for rare plant species to disperse and establish in experimental forest-regeneration plots. Results indicate that birds that mix fruit and insects in their diets and actively forage across open and forested habitats can play keystone roles in the regeneration of mutualistic plant-animal communities. Furthermore, our analyses reveal that rare-biased (antiapostatic) frugivory and seed dispersal is the mechanism responsible for increasing plant diversity in the early-regenerating community.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics