Network analyses have emerged as a new tool to study frugivory and seed dispersal (FSD) mutualisms because networks can model and simplify the complexity of multiple community-wide species interactions. Moreover, network theory suggests that structural properties, such as the presence of highly generalist species, are linked to the stability of mutualistic communities. However, we still lack empirical validation of network model predictions. Here we outline new research avenues to connect network models to FSD processes, and illustrate the challenges and opportunities of this tool with a field study. We hypothesized that generalist frugivores would be important for forest stability by dispersing seeds into deforested areas and initiating reforestation. We then constructed a network of plant-frugivore interactions using published data and identified the most generalist frugivores. To test the importance of generalists we measured: 1) the frequency with which frugivores moved between pasture and forest, 2) the bird-generated seed rain under perches in the pasture, and 3) the perching frequency of birds above seed traps. The generalist frugivores in the forest network were not important for seed dispersal into pastures, and thus for forest recovery, because the forest network excluded habitat heterogeneities, frugivore behavior, and movements. More research is needed to develop ways to incorporate relevant FSD processes into network models in order for these models to be more useful to community ecology and conservation. The network framework can serve to spark and renew interest in FSD and further our understanding of plant-animal communities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation