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Spondias mombin is culturally deprived in megafauna-free forest

  • Daniel H. Janzen (a1)

In the semi-deciduous forests of Santa Rosa National Park in the Pacific coastal lowlands of northwestern Costa Rica, the large and fast-growing tree Spondias mombin(Anacardiaceae) experiences greater than 95% post-dispersal seed predation by a bruchid beetle (Amblycerus spondiae) on its nuts that have been dispersed to any part of pristine or secondary successional forest. Nuts dispersed (by white-tailed deer) to abandoned pastures immediately adjacent to the forest suffer less than 20% post-dispersal seed predation but seedlings are killed by frequent grass fires. S. mombin displays significant recruitment of saplings and young trees only on forest edges free of fire for long intervals. The very high percent seed predation in the forest and the failure of many nuts to ever be dispersed away from the parent tree is attributed directly and indirectly to the absence of a herbivorous (frugivorous) megafauna that would have been part of the habitat of S. mombin through most of its evolutionary history. These large animals would have consumed large numbers of S. mombin fruits and thereby dispersed the nuts in such a manner as to have both led to more escape from bruchids and an overall reduction in the bruchid population density. By their defecation patterns, these mammals would also have defecated more nuts in sites of high quality for S. mombin sapling survival than is the case at present. In contemporary habitats, S. mombin is culturally deprived in that it can no longer interact with the habitats, animals and densities of animals whose selective pressures were a major force in the evolution of the tree's traits.

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