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|Title: ||The Influence of Human Disturbance on Avian Frugivory and Seed Dispersal in a Neotropical Rainforest|
|Authors: ||Lefevre, Kara Lynn|
|Advisor: ||Rodd, F. Helen|
|Department: ||Ecology and Evolutionary Biology|
|Issue Date: ||31-Jul-2008|
|Abstract: ||Habitat loss and disturbance due to human activity are major causes of global biodiversity decline. Beyond outright species loss, one potential outcome is modification of species interactions that are integral to ecosystem functioning. To investigate this possibility, I asked whether human activity influences avian frugivory and seed dispersal, bird-fruit interactions that facilitate plant reproduction. On Tobago (West Indies), I compared patterns of frugivory in three adjacent rainforest habitats along a gradient of increasing disturbance: primary forest in a reserve, unprotected intermediate forest outside the reserve, and nearby forest that was moderately disturbed by subsistence resource use. I assessed plant and bird community composition, seedling species, fruit removal, and bird fecal samples, to estimate human effects on seed dispersal and plant recruitment in this ecosystem.
Disturbed forest had different species assemblages than primary forest, characterized by more light-demanding plants, more birds, and a shift in the relative abundance of avian feeding guilds: insectivores and frugivores declined, while nectarivores and omnivores increased. Canopy cover declined with disturbance; along with plant abundance, this explained much of the variation in bird species composition. The rate of avian fruit consumption in removal experiments varied considerably but tended to be highest in primary forest. Fecal samples showed that fruit composition of avian diets also varied with disturbance; birds captured in disturbed forest consumed more seeds from light-demanding plants. Seeds in the samples provided evidence of some seed transfer between habitats—from disturbed forest into the reserve and vice versa. Seedling composition was consistent with plant species fruiting in the same study plots, and illustrated some successful recruitment of light-demanding plants in primary forest and shade-tolerant plants in disturbed forest. Notably, the plant community of intermediate forest was more similar to disturbed than primary forest. This suggests that habitat adjacent to areas of human activity can be susceptible to ecological change, even though it does not experience the same direct disturbance. In summary, the unprotected portion of Tobago’s rainforest has a markedly different plant and bird community than the forest reserve, and my results indicate that avian frugivory and seed dispersal can be influenced by moderate human activity.|
|Appears in Collections:||Doctoral|
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology - Doctoral theses
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