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Does landscape structure affect resource tracking by avian frugivores in a fragmented Afrotropical forest?

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Frugivorous species heavily depend on patchy food resources and are believed to track these in space and time, thereby providing an important seed dispersal function that might be critical toward the regeneration of fruiting plants. However, isolation of suitable food patches due to habitat fragmentation or changes in landscape connectivity may hamper food tracking behaviour and adversely affect populations of both frugivores (through starvation) and food plants (through interruption of seed dispersal). We here test whether density fluctuations in four frugivorous Afrotropical bird species were larger and/or matched fluctuations in ripe fruit densities better in study plots embedded in large tracts of indigenous forest than in equally-sized plots embedded in cultivated lands. We compared these results with those of four non-frugivorous species (out-group) which were not expected to track fruit resources. Whereas densities of both frugivores and fruit crops strongly fluctuated in space and time, these fluctuations were not synchronised, nor did the level of synchrony differ in relation to matrix type. For some but not all bird species, lower densities and smaller temporal fluctuations in forest plots surrounded by cultivation may reflect decreased mobility. The observed fluctuations in bird densities most likely reflect exchange with the surrounding landscape matrix, suggesting that small pockets of fruiting trees in farmland may comprise critical food resources for frugivores inhabiting highly fragmented landscapes, apart from increasing connectivity for both bird and seed dispersal.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2009

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