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The mismatch in distributions of vertebrates and the plants that they disperse

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Little is known about how mutualistic interactions affect the distribution of species richness on broad geographic scales. Because mutualism positively affects the fitness of all species involved in the interaction, one hypothesis is that the richness of species involved should be positively correlated across their range, especially for obligate relationships. Alternatively, if mutualisms involve multiple mutualistic partners, the distribution of mutualists should not necessarily be related, and patterns in species distributions might be more strongly correlated with environmental factors. In this study, we compared the distributions of plants and vertebrate animals involved in seed‐dispersal mutualisms across the United States and Canada. We compiled geographic distributions of plants dispersed by frugivores and scatter‐hoarding animals, and compared their distribution of richness to the distribution in disperser richness. We found that the distribution of animal dispersers shows a negative relationship to the distribution of the plants that they disperse, and this is true whether the plants dispersed by frugivores or scatter‐hoarders are considered separately or combined. In fact, the mismatch in species richness between plants and the animals that disperse their seeds is dramatic, with plants species richness greatest in the in the eastern United States and the animal species richness greatest in the southwest United States. Environmental factors were corelated with the difference in the distribution of plants and their animal mutualists and likely are more important in the distribution of both plants and animals. This study is the first to describe the broad‐scale distribution of seed‐dispersing vertebrates and compare the distributions to the plants they disperse. With these data, we can now identify locations that warrant further study to understand the factors that influence the distribution of the plants and animals involved in these mutualisms.
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Keywords: mutualism; seed dispersal; species distributions

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2019

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