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Introduced Birds and the Fate of Hawaiian Rainforests

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The Hawaiian Islands have lost nearly all their native seed dispersers, but have gained many frugivorous birds and fleshy-fruited plants through introductions. Introduced birds may not only aid invasions of exotic plants but also may be the sole dispersers of native plants. We assessed seed dispersal at the ecotone between native- and exotic-dominated forests and quantified bird diets, seed rain from defecated seeds, and plant distributions. Introduced birds were the primary dispersers of native seeds into exotic-dominated forests, which may have enabled six native understory plant species to become reestablished. Some native plant species are now as common in exotic forest understory as they are in native forest. Introduced birds also dispersed seeds of two exotic plants into native forest, but dispersal was localized or establishment minimal. Seed rain of bird-dispersed seeds was extensive in both forests, totaling 724 seeds of 9 native species and 2 exotics with over 85% of the seeds coming from native plants. Without suitable native dispersers, most common understory plants in Hawaiian rainforests now depend on introduced birds for dispersal, and these introduced species may actually facilitate perpetuation, and perhaps in some cases restoration, of native forests. We emphasize, however, that restoration of native forests by seed dispersal from introduced birds, as seen in this study, depends on the existence of native forests to provide a source of seeds and protection from the effects of ungulates. Our results further suggest that aggressive control of patches of non-native plants within otherwise native-dominated forests may be an important and effective conservation strategy.
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Keywords: aves introducidas; biología de la invasión; dispersión de semillas; extinción; extinction; introduced birds; invasion biology; native plants; non-native plants; plantas nativas plantas no nativas; seed dispersal

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Florida Museum of Natural History, 305 Dickinson Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, U.S.A.

Publication date: 01 October 2007

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