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Waiting for Gajah: an elephant mutualist's contingency plan for an endangered megafaunal disperser

Sekar, Nitin and Sukumar, Raman (2013) Waiting for Gajah: an elephant mutualist's contingency plan for an endangered megafaunal disperser. In: JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, 101 (6). pp. 1379-1388.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.12157


Large animals are disproportionately likely to go extinct, and the effects of this on ecosystem processes are unclear. Megaherbivores (weighing over 1000kg) are thought to be particularly effective seed dispersers, yet only a few plant species solely or predominantly adapted for dispersal by megaherbivores have been identified. The reasons for this paradox may be elucidated by examining the ecology of so-called megafaunal fruiting species in Asia, where large-fruited species have been only sparsely researched. We conducted focal tree watches, camera trapping, fruit ageing trials, dung seed counts and germination trials to understand the ecology of Dillenia indica, a large-fruited species thought to be elephant-dispersed, in a tropical moist forest (Buxa Tiger Reserve, India). We find that the initial hardness of the fruit of D.indica ensures that its small (6mm) seeds will primarily be consumed and dispersed by elephants and perhaps other megaherbivores. Elephants removed 63.3% of camera trap-monitored fruits taken by frugivores. If the fruit of D.indica is not removed by a large animal, the seeds of D.indica become available to successively smaller frugivores as its fruits soften. Seeds from both hard and soft fruits are able to germinate, meaning these smaller frugivores may provide a mechanism for dispersal without megaherbivores.Synthesis. Dillenia indica's strategy for dispersal allows it to realize the benefits of dispersal by megaherbivores without becoming fully reliant on these less abundant species. This risk-spreading dispersal behaviour suggests D.indica will be able to persist even if its megafaunal disperser becomes extinct.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: copyright for this article belongs to WILEY-BLACKWELL
Keywords: Asian elephant (Elephas maximus); Dillenia indica; dispersal; ecological redundancy; ecological resilience; frugivory; megafaunal fruit
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Depositing User: Id for Latest eprints
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2013 11:28
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2013 11:28
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/47783

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