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Identification of seed dispersal

Foto: AG Naturschutz

Habitat fragmentation is one of the main threats to the existence of tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems. It affects not only the biodiversity living here, but also key ecosystem processes. Seed dispersal by animals is one such key process, as up to 90% of all plant species in these ecosystems rely on animals for their dispersal. A wide variety of animal species act as dispersers, with animals differing in quantity, quality, and consequently effectiveness of service. In particular, for seeds dispersed by birds, accurate tracking of the effects of animal species on the dispersal patterns of different plant species has not been methodologically feasible. Genetic barcoding of dispersers from dispersed seeds makes this possible, allowing us to establish the long missing link between animal activity and plant dispersal patterns. In the project, we use this approach to better understand the effects of forest fragmentation on seed dispersal and regeneration processes of subtropical forests. The project builds on a comprehensive dataset of plant-seed disperser interaction networks in a fragmented forest landscape in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The goal is to link these observational data of plant-seed disperser interactions to actual dispersal patterns of plant species. In this way, we hope to capture the effects of changes in interactions that occur with increasing forest fragmentation on dispersal events. In the long term, the project should contribute to a better understanding of the effects of forest fragmentation on tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems.

PI: Dana Schabo

Team: Esther Meißner and Dana Schabo

Cooperation partner: Dr. Franziska Peter (Universität Kiel), Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, University of KwaZuluNatal, Pietermaritzburg, Natural Science Museum Durban

Project funding: Schimper-Stiftung