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In the elephant's seed shadow: the prospects of domestic bovids as replacement dispersers of three tropical Asian trees

Sekar, Nitin and Lee, Chia-Lo and Sukumar, Raman (2015) In the elephant's seed shadow: the prospects of domestic bovids as replacement dispersers of three tropical Asian trees. In: ECOLOGY, 96 (8). pp. 2093-2105.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/14-1543.1

Abstract

As populations of the world's largest animal species decline, it is unclear how ecosystems will react to their local extirpation. Due to the unique ecological characteristics of megaherbivores such as elephants, seed dispersal is one ecosystem process that may be affected as populations of large animals are decimated. In typically disturbed South Asian ecosystems, domestic bovids (cattle, Bos primigenius, and buffalo, Bubalus bubalis) may often be the species most available to replace Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) as endozoochorous dispersers of large-fruited mammal-dispersed species. We use feeding trials, germination trials, and movement data from the tropical moist forests of Buxa Tiger Reserve (India) to examine whether domestic bovids are viable replacements for elephants in the dispersal of three largefruited species: Dillenia indica, Artocarpus chaplasha, and Careya arborea. We find that (1) once consumed, seeds are between 2.5 (C. arborea) and 26.5 (D. indica) times more likely to pass undigested into elephant dung than domestic bovid dung; and (2) seeds from elephant dung germinated as well as or better than seeds taken from bovid dung for all plant species, with D. indica seeds from elephant dung 1.5 times more likely to germinate. Furthermore, since wild elephants have less constrained movements than even free-roaming domestic bovids, we calculate that maximum dispersal by elephants is between 9.5 and 11.2 times farther than that of domestic bovids, with about 20% of elephant-dispersed seeds being moved farther than the maximum distance seeds are moved by bovids. Our findings suggest that, while bovids are able to disperse substantial numbers of seeds over moderate distances for two of the three study species, domestic bovids will be unable to routinely emulate the reliable, long-distance dispersal of seeds executed by elephants in this tropical moist forest. Thus while domestic bovids can attenuate the effects of losing elephants as dispersers, they may not be able to prevent the decline of various mammal-dispersed fruiting species in the face of overhunting, habitat fragmentation, and climate change.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: Copy right for this article belongs to the ECOLOGICAL SOC AMER, 1990 M STREET NW, STE 700, WASHINGTON, DC 20036 USA
Keywords: Artocarpus chaplasha; Asian elephant; Bos primigenius; Bubalus bubalis; Careya arborea; Dillenia indica; domestic buffalo; domestic cattle; Elephas maximus; functional compensation; seed dispersal
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Depositing User: Id for Latest eprints
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2015 05:33
Last Modified: 26 Aug 2015 05:33
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/52235

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