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Primary seed dispersal by the black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) in the Manombo forest, south-east Madagascar

  • Kara L. Moses (a1) and Stuart Semple (a1)

Seed dispersal is a pivotal ecological process but remains poorly understood on Madagascar, where lemurs are key dispersers. The black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) possesses many behavioural and ecological attributes potentially conducive to effective seed dispersal, but no studies have investigated dispersal patterns in this species. This 3-mo study quantified aspects of the primary seed dispersal patterns generated by two Varecia variegata groups (7 individuals). Feeding and ranging behaviour was quantified using behavioural observation (345.6 h), dispersal quantity and seed identity was determined by faecal analysis, and 10-wk germination trials tested effects of gut passage on germination of four species. Individual lemurs dispersed an estimated 104 seeds d−1, of 40 species. Most seeds were large (>10 mm); the largest was 42 mm long. Gut passage was rapid (mean 4.4 h) and generally increased germination speed and success. Mean and maximum inferred dispersal distances were 180 and 506 m respectively; low compared with many anthropoids, but possibly typical of lemurs. Though limited by a short study period, results suggest that the ruffed lemur is an effective disperser of seeds and possibly a critical disperser of large-seeded species which other frugivores cannot swallow. Loss of large-bodied seed dispersers such as Varecia variegata may have far-reaching ecological consequences including impacts on forest structure and dynamics.

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